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4-H Helped Transform This Wisconsin Farm Boy's Life in 1945

4-H Helped Transform This Wisconsin Farm Boy's Life in 1945
Author Jerry Apps shares what he learned from being a 10-year member of 4-H

Jerry Apps, 80, of Madison is a retired county 4-H and agriculture Extension agent, professor emeritus at University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of 40 books. Many of his books are about his recollections of growing up on his family's farm with his parents and younger twin brothers near Wild Rose in the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s.

In a recent interview, Apps talked about his experiences in 4-H and fondest memories of being a 4-H member for 10 years.

Jerry Apps was a 4-H member from 1945-1955.

Cows and trees
"My first connection to 4-H was in 1945 when we organized a little 4-H club in Waushara County called Chain O Lake 4-H Club. I was 10 years old," Apps recalls. "My first year in 4-H I had two 4-H projects. I was in the dairy project and the forestry project. Every kid wanted to be in the dairy project because we could go to the fair and stay overnight."

Before his first county fair, Apps remembers the boys in the dairy project in his club held an ice cream social.

"We earned enough money to buy a used World War II tent to stay in during the fair," he recalls. "There were 10 boys and the leader in the tent. We also bought surplus Army cots. We were the envy of all the other clubs. It was a big deal and it was the highlight of the year. "I looked forward to the fair each year as much as I looked forward to Christmas."

Apps' says his father showed cows at the Waushara County Fair in Wautoma in the 1920s.

"He drove his whole herd there. He only had about 12 cows. But that was seven miles away," Apps says. "He knew how to show cattle and he knew how to teach a calf to lead. He picked out a bull calf for me my first year. I got first place with that calf. It was grand champion bull and overall grand champion of the show. I guess I started my 4-H career off with a bang!"

Apps remembers a barnstorming pilot giving rides for 50 cents on his two-wing plane at the fair.

"The pilot was coming in for a landing and one of the plane's wheel caught a wire fence and the plane crashed," he says. "The pilot and his passenger crawled out the plane. Neither was hurt much but the plane was smashed up and had to hauled off."

As a 10 year old boy, Apps says he had his first restaurant meal during the fair.

"I had never eaten at a restaurant and there was a nice little restaurant in Wautoma," he explains. "You could buy a roast beef plate lunch for 50 cents. My mom had given me money for the fair, but told me not to spend it on anything except food. The waitress must have known we were a group of hungry 4-H boys and she piled on four pieces of meat on my plate. That was really something."

In addition to his dairy projects, Apps was enrolled in the forestry project his first year in 4-H.

"I built my little nursery right in back of the old chicken house," he recalls. "We had to make a planting board which was six inches wide and the trees were one inch apart. One day, I came out to see my little trees and the chickens had gotten in the nursery and scratched out half the trees because that was a great place for earthworms. My dad helped me build a little fence to keep the chickens out and I replanted and saved most of the trees. They were red pine trees. I drove by the farm the other day and they are all still standing 69 years later."

Over the years Apps added additional projects including soil conservation, field crops and woodworking.

"I was in 4-H until 1955. I loved it," Apps says. "It was great stuff. I loved it. I thought it was the best. I always had dairy projects each year. We had registered Holsteins. The bull calves I showed each year in4-H were my payment for working on the farm for the year. I'd get $200 for each bull when I sold them when they were breeding age. I would sell them in September or October after the fair when they were a year old."

Triumphing over tragedy
Apps learned a lot about life and himself from his dairy project when he was 12 years old.

"In January 1947, I got polio. I couldn't walk until May or June. It was not a good time," Apps explains. "The bull calf I had that summer was teaching me how to walk as I was teaching it how to lead. He was my physical therapist as there was no such thing back then. It's probably the main reason I went to college. I limped, I couldn't do sports, so I studied and went to college."

Besides having a lot of fun in 4-H, Apps says he learned a lot of life skills.

"We had a great public speaking program and I loved participating in those contests. I learned a lot and I got to see what other kids were doing," he says. "When I was young, I thought the 4-H record books were horrible, but soon I learned it was a great way of keeping careful records so you knew at the end of the year how much your calf ate, how much it was worth and that's a very important skill to learn. 4-H taught me skills that I used throughout my career and life."

Apps says, one of the greatest things 4-H did is it taught families, not just 4-H members, about new things that were happening in agriculture and new things in cooking, canning and sewing.

"It brought kids together to learn new farming practices or about new hybrids," he says. "If a kid planted an acre of oats with a new hybrid and the father saw how good those oats turned out he thought 'maybe I should try that hybrid too.'  The 4-H member learned a new way of doing things and then the father learned too. The same thing was true with the girls. If a girl tried a new foods project or clothing project and learned something the mom might learn something new too."

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