Happy 100th birthday, 4-H

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 2:23 PM

Becky Wright

Danielle Fullmer thought she knew 4-H.

“My mother had done 4-H in the past, so I kind of knew a little bit of what it was about,” said Fullmer, of Ogden. “I just knew that it was livestock, and then the family consumer sciences, like sewing and baby-sitting and that kind of stuff.”

Then she saw that 4-H was looking for a summer camp director.

“I noticed they were doing all sorts of science camps, so I was really surprised,” she said.

She got the job, and has spent the summer surrounded by kids exploring everything from the effects of weight and wind on automobiles to how to make lotion.

“I found out that 4-H is much more than I thought it was,” said Fullmer, who is in her early 20s and working on a teaching degree at Weber State University.

It’s more than most people think it is.

“We hear a lot of people say, ‘4-H made me into what I am today, and I wish it was available for my kids,’  ” said Kevin Kesler, director of 4-H and Youth Programs in Utah.

When he tells them it is still available, they say, “But I’m no longer in a rural area — I’m in the city.”

“4-H is alive and well,” said Kesler, adding that there are plenty of options for city kids, too.

“Instead of livestock, they might be doing GIS mapping, and the same life skills that were part of the program when parents were kids are taught to kids today — responsibility, citizenship, service to others, developing self-esteem, public relations skills, public speaking and those types of skills.”

4-H centennial

Utah is celebrating 100 years of 4-H in 2012.

“It began in Cache County, with potato clubs,” said Donna Carter, Utah State University Extension associate professor with Weber County’s 4-H program.

Utah’s early 4-H clubs were started by James C. Hogensen, a native of Denmark who was a professor of agronomy at the Utah State Agricultural College, now Utah State University.

An article from the History Blazer, posted on the Utah History to Go website, says Hogensen toured the state, talking with 6,786 boys at 58 schools. Some counties, like Sanpete, produced just one club, but in Cache County, he created 10 clubs with almost 600 boys. Box Elder had about 300 boys in nine clubs.

Each club member grew a half-acre of potatoes, under the direction of the college, and kept records of the process. Gilbert Hyer, of Lewiston, grew 797 bushels, compared to the Utah average of 190 bushels, earning a $100 prize at the 1913 Utah State Fair.

There were also clubs for girls; the article lists Hattie Holbrook, of Bountiful, as winner of the home economics division at the fair. She and Hyer won trips to Washington, D.C., to be part of national agricultural club meetings.

By 1914, there were nine types of clubs in Utah: potato, corn, market garden, apple, poultry, sugar beets and mangels, breadmaking, flower garden and sewing.

The national 4-H program spread west from Ohio, where it was started in 1902.

Researchers at universities were generating innovative ideas in agriculture, but found that adults in farming communities weren’t very accepting of new technology. At the same time, educators were realizing that hands-on learning would create stronger ties between public education and rural students. The two ideas were combined in the creation of the 4-H program, where kids and teens met in clubs to learn about the latest in agricultual science, and were given opportunities put their knowledge into practice.

Nationwide, 4-H programs are administered through land-grant colleges in each state, which were charged with teaching agriculture, science and engineering. Utah State University runs the local 4-H programs through its extension offices.

Clubs to camps

The 4-H program started with clubs led by local adult volunteers.

Members of agriculture clubs learned management techniques, with the latest science on how to improve yield, manage disease and manage insect damage, said Carter. In the home economics area, the focus was often on the safe preservation of food.

“Some of the earliest clubs for girls were canning clubs,” she said. Girls typically learned to cook and sew, but there are photos of girls showing steers in the early 1940s.

The clubs weren’t all about work.

“Just like we do today, there were a lot of social activities,” said Carter, noting that the kids played ball and went on camp-outs.

Jimmy Papageorge, now 85, was in a traditional livestock club as a youngster, where he learned to show dairy cows.

“You have to get the hair clipped so they look nice, and get all the manure off them — wash them and get them looking good,” said the Farr West man.

He also learned to judge livestock. “I was an official national judge through the whole United States, so it taught me a lot,” he said. And he wound up passing on what he learned as an adult 4-H leader.

Florence Papageorge Blosser, Jimmy’s sister who now lives in Sunnyside, Wash., joined 4-H about 70 years ago, participating in club activities that were typical for girls at that time.

“We sewed and tailored articles of clothing,” she said. “We cooked.” She also did a gardening project, for which she won a trip to Chicago.

“I act like I still am in 4-H,” she said, adding that she earned a degree in home economics. “Every year I have a garden, and that is because of 4-H.”

Her daughters also participated in 4-H, in Washington, and now her grandchildren — boys and girls — are all learning about livestock, mostly pigs.

Changing with times

Over the years, as life has

changed, so has 4-H. In the 1960s, members could join an archaeology club. In the 1970s, there were voter awareness and basketball programs. In the 1980s, the 4-H promoted guide dog programs, and in the 1990s ATV safety was added to the list of options.

About a year ago, Shauna Lyon, of Hooper, started a robotics club. About 16 kids from across the county meet monthly with her, and co-leader Denise Waters, for activities using kits owned by 4-H.

Lyon grew up loving electronics, but didn’t know how to teach robotics.

“We had to do background checks,” she said. “Then we went to 4-H leader training, and then a couple of classes so we could understand robotics and how to build and how to use the software.”

County-wide clubs, like Lyon’s, meet at the USU Extension office. Family-based clubs meet in homes.

“We have lots of family clubs,” said Jenn Hamblin, 4-H staff assistant for the Davis County extension office.

Hamblin says clubs can check out kits, teaching everything from rocketry to hygiene and screen printing.

Some counties, like Davis and Weber, offer summer camps and have expanded into school and after-school programs.

“In Weber County there are about 4,000 children,” Carter said of how many are now served locally by 4-H.

Not all of them are officially members. “Some are through clubs, and some are in after-school, school enrichment and special interest programs,” she said.

Statewide, there are 91,451 youth involved with 4-H, a number that Kesler says is slowly, but steadily growing.

“Fifty percent of our young members come from Utah cities, and you see those kids involved in robotics and filmmaking and other types of science and engineering-type programs,” he said.

4-H family

Lacey Papageorge is a third generation 4-H member in Weber County.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of different programs,” said the 18-year-old, noting that she’s been in 4-H for half of her life. In addition to showing dairy cows, steers and lambs, she’s been involved in learning leadership skills. She’s been a camp counselor and was active in the teen council program.

Like her great uncle Jimmy, as well as her father and grandfather, she’s involved with a livestock club. Her show cow, Texas, won Grand Champion at the county fair last year. She bought Texas in 2005, and the cow now weighs about a ton and produces about 100 pounds of milk a day.

“I’d rather have her than a dog,” she said of Texas.”We have waterfights when I give her a bath. ... She flips me with her wet tail, and I’m pretty sure she does it on purpose — she has good aim.”

One of Lacey’s favorite activities was serving as a state 4-H ambassador in 2010-11. To be selected as one of the eight ambassadors, Lacey had to submit an application, a project proposal and a portfolio, and go through a two-day interview process that included giving two different speeches.

During her time as an ambassador, she traveled the state, teaching educational workshops and planning and participating in service projects. She also earned a scholarship through 4-H, which she will use to study dairy science at USU. She’s not sure that she’ll wind up working on the family farm — she may become a nutritionist or study genetics to help the dairy farming community.

“4-H just taught me so much, like how to act with people and how to speak,” she said. “It’s just given me a basis to go out in the world and be confident, and be able to do things.”

Lacey Papageorge will age out of the 4-H program this fall.

“I’m very sad because 4-H has totally been my life,” she said.

But she expects to be back with the program in the future.

“I definitely will want my kids to be able to have the same experience,” she said. “I’ll probably be a 4-H leader of some kind. Maybe I’ll have a cow club — that would be fun.”

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