From the time I can remember, 4-H was one of the "hearts" of my rural life in Wisconsin, and I could hardly wait until I turned nine in 1958, so for one year I could be a junior member. We were very involved in our county and surrounding areas, and 4-H was second only to our church life! I grew up in a small, farming community in Northern Wisconsin, where 4-H clubs were predominantly in the farming communities, and Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts were very strong in the towns. 4-H did expand into the towns, however, which may have contributed to why the number of projects one could participate in BOOMED, about the time I left for college! It also meant that more parents were actively involved, because for every project, there would be a project leader. Thank you, parents!
For the entire ten years I was associated with my club, the main projects I took were sewing, home furnishings, and dairy. Other projects like photography, knitting (there was no crochet class then), and cooking were enjoyed, but not the mainstays, because of the work involved helping with farming/milking chores. My garments were in the local reviews, and I made state fair (with blue ribbons!) for the last two years I participated. One of my fondest remembrances of the home furnishings project was when my mother and I gathered various types of weeds and oat shafts, and spray painted some silver, some gold, and made what may have been the first dried, natural arrangement (natural? Painted SILVER and GOLD?!) to be shown at the local fair, and I won a blue ribbon, and championship ribbon for the group! For the next couple of years, every time I visited someone's home, there were various dried material arrangements spray painted gold, silver, or combination. I guess for the first, and maybe only time in my life, I was a trend-setter! Who knew that many years later, I would spend almost 30 years in the interior design related business?!
The dairy project was second skin, since my father was a registered Holstein breeder. Our animals were shown at other events besides the fairs, and it was really what took the most time. There were years I didn't even make it to the Fairway (rides section) because I was in the barn almost every waking minute, taking just enough time to see what ribbons my other projects had earned, and to see what ribbon we made for our booth display. Many late hours were spent just before the fair opened with the preparation, not to mention the loss of sleep during the fair. We just didn't think of it! It was part of the thrill of it all!
My high school years were the most demanding, involving demonstration contests (my first one was on the proper order to wash dishes, and did it so many times on request that it was almost enough to make me want a dishwasher!), 4-H talent contests, Junior Leaders, 4-H speaking contests, and still keeping up with piano lessons, pipe organ lessons, concert schedules, and a full life of church worship/activities as well! One of my friends from another club and I were appointed chair of the dress review for the fairs. Since the great movie Mary Poppins was released, we used the them Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious as our theme, and even painted a huge sign to run across the stage. We prepared and presented dialogue for everyone who modeled their winning garments. I even got to wear my crown and banner, because the previous winter, I was chosen as the first county 4-H Queen! (Last time I checked, there are now 4-H ambassadors).
I loved 4-H camp. My aunt was one of the cooks there, and it was always such a fun time. Junior Leadership training sessions in Madison allowed us to meet a lot of other "kids." 4-H band and chorus allowed me to travel the state. The Wales School for Boys is a highlight of that time. We gave a concert late one morning while on tour, and NO ONE clapped between our numbers. At the end of the concert, no one started clapping, so when our director signaled, we started to dismantle our stands and get ready to leave the stage. Someone started to clap, and soon the entire audience of boys was standing and thunderous with applause. There was not a dry eye on the stage that morning as we just stood there. It was an understanding realized that our own age group, bound in the reformatory of life, could actually appreciate some of their own age entertaining them for the strict love of doing so. Makes my eyes water just remembering that moment.
The memories of 4-H are so cherished. Several years ago, our home was broken into, and my jewelry box, which contained 4-H medals and pins as well as other treasured memorabilia, was stolen. It took some time to realize that the memories far outweigh the outward signs of hard work and achievement! To think that we accomplished what we did without fax machines, cell phones, Facebook, and text messaging is a true test of hard work, and some extra driving! We had to prepare ahead! I am not sure my grandchildren could comprehend my telling them to "meet me at 1:30 at the Surge tent for your clean show-ring clothes!" HaHa!
The most appreciated part of all of this is how my life was shaped by my family, peers, animals, and leaders, for whom I am a grateful, wiser adult.