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4-H: A Shared Experience

From the historical society
From the historical society
Information submitted by the Grayslake Historical Society.

Several former 4-H members and leaders recently reminisced about their experiences, challenges and adventures over the years as part of the largest youth development organization in the world that serves more than 7 million youth in the United States.

The reminisce session was hosted by the Grayslake Historical Society in its continuing  periodic program to recall and share events and experiences of the past in Grayslake. 4-H began more than 100 years ago. "The 4-H idea is simple:" notes the 4-H website, "help young people and their families gain the skills needed to be proactive forces in their communities and develop ideas for a more innovative economy."

The 4-H clover pin with an H on each leaf was designed in 1910. The Lake County 4-H program points out that the H's in 4-H are for Head, Heart, Hands and Health. Today, there are three primary program areas including science, engineering and technology.

"If your friends joined 4-H, you joined," said Charlotte Renehan of Grayslake at the session held Sept. 28 in the Community Room of the Grayslake Heritage Center and Museum. She stressed the importance of adult leaders for successful 4-H programs. Marcia Ruth of Grayslake said that family ties led her to 4-H membership. "It was the only thing to do when you lived in a small Wisconsin town. That was what you did."

Mary Dietz of Grayslake, one of a group of moms that founded the Eager Beavers 4-H club in Grayslake, recalled the fun and challenges her 4-Hers faced in preparing for, and competing in, 4-H talent competitions at the State Fair in Springfield. And they won some ribbons, she said. And of course there were stories to share about driving to the State Fair.

Jane Qualmann of Antioch said that there may have been as many of 50 individual 4-H clubs in Lake County several years ago, but for many reasons, that number has drastically been reduced. Lack of funding has been a cause, she said, adding that competition for the young peoples' interests has increased. Also, parental participation is an important part of the 4-H program.

Several of the attending leaders were also involved in judging in 4-H competitions at the Lake County Fair. "Face-to-face judging was great because you could interact with the kids," Qualmann said. "They learned more that way," Dietz noted. "One of my favorite things to do was working at the fair in the 4-H booths, Qualmann said. "I had a sense of accomplishment." 

Joyce Norton of Grayslake remembers when photography was introduced as a 4-H project. "And they said: Well, there goes 4-H." But the 4-H program adapted and offered such project topics as genealogy, pottery, cake decorating, horticulture and various environmental topics. Now, Lake County 4-H offers, for example, a 4-H Youth Science Day which seeks to spark an early youth interest and leadership in science including global positioning systems and geographic information systems.

Community service projects for individual 4-H clubs were also important goals, it was noted. "There are a lot of positives in 4-H reinforcement," Dietz said.   The Lake County 4-H program now has 17 traditional clubs, seven Cloverbud clubs, two special interest clubs, offers such projects as sailing and robotics, has a program for military youth at Great Lakes Naval Center and has more than 100 youth participating in 4-H curriculum study at local schools and youth serving agencies.

"We serve at least 300 youth in Lake County, teaching the life skills development, the importance of community and social development," a spokesman said.

Today, 4-H serves youth in rural, urban and suburban communities in every state in the nation. "4-Hers are tackling the nation's top issues from global food security, climate change and sustainable energy to childhood obesity and food safety," a national 4-H spokesman said.   In the United States, 4-H programs are implemented by the 109 land grant universities and the Cooperative Extension System through their 3,100 local Extension offices across the country. 

Overseas, 4-H programs operate throughout more than 50 countries.

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