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4-H unites family and county over 100 years
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4-H unites family and county over 100 years

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One anniversary this year complements a person in Page County’s history – and they were not far apart.

On May 8, 1914, The Smith-Lever Act established a national cooperative extension service that made program through land-grant universities able to provide information to rural Americans through agriculture and technology. In Iowa, that university was Iowa State.

The same time, Jessie Field Shambaugh was nearing the finish of her term as a Page County School Superintendent. When she started the position in 1906, she organized Boys Corn Clubs and Girls Home Club in country schools. That was the foundation for her 3-H clubs that used camps, exhibitions and competition to instruct youth on agriculture and rural life. The 4-H moniker (head, heart, hands and health) would begin in 1912.

When you combine the two, the Smith-Lever Act and 4-H, the result is Iowa State Extension.

Iowa State Extension celebrated its 100th anniversary this year in Page County which is why is it is the Clarinda Herald-Journal’s story of the year for 2019.

“4-H is one of the big four for us, but extension work is year round,” said Kimberly Wellauer director of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach for Page County. “It’s 24-7, 365 days of the year.”

The county’s 4-H 10 clubs and two Clover Kids clubs and county fair are arguably the most popular function of extension, there is more to what the extension staff does. Clover Kids is a 4-H introductory club for students in kindergarten through third-grade.

“It’s more than the fair,” she said. “This time of the year we are planning community service events like sewing classes, cake decorating, baby sitting courses. Extension has information for viticulture which is grapes and vineyards. Vineyards are popping up around Iowa. There is probably something for everyone in extension.”

Wellauer began her positon in 2017.

“I am learning something new every day. I hope I don’t stop,” she said. “It’s more than just one thing. If I don’t keep learning, I won’t be good at what I do.”

During her time, Wellauer said she has helped area residents help identify an insect or plant they are not familiar. If someone in the region doesn’t know, the sample is sent to Iowa State University.

“There are things people don’t know what we do,” she said.

Part of what she is learning is the past of Page County Extension.

“Ron Sanson did this for so long. Going back and finding things, it’s interesting to have Ron’s name or signature on it. We have a collection of historical things. You want to see what people did before you,” she said.

Sanson retired in 2000 and he was with extension for 40 years.

Wellauer said Sanson kept a list of employees and extension agents during his time in Page County.

“Ron started an abbreviated history of what extension did from when he started to when he left,” she said. That history work has continued as entries are being made from 2000.

“It’s been fun looking back,” she said. “We’ve done a lot.”

Part of that history includes Lexy Davies, who was hired this year as the county youth coordinator. Fair and 4-H are part of the job, but Davies said there are many other things Page County youth can participate.

Early next year, extension debuts SWITCH, a 12-week program helping schools help students into a wellness focused environment.

“Switch what they do, view and chew,” is the tagline.

The program will feature healthy diets and how to limit screen time. For years, Page County Extension has offered a Lego robotics course for middle school aged kids. Competitions are based on programming and executing a Lego-built robot through a course and an educational presentation under a certain topic. Davies said research is being done on creating the program at the high school level and include Clarinda High.

She knows 4-H is part of the routines and that’s fine with her because of her history.

“My motivation is to put the fun in 4-H. I want to instill leadership and communication skills in youth,” she said.

“I was in 4-H, my relatives were and my daughters were,” she said. “The love of 4-H is something that gets passed down through families. It’s been around longer than extension. It can stand the test of time,” she said.

Her training has showed her how specialized 4-H is becoming. Across the state, there have been efforts made to offer 4-H to adjudicated youth and youth with disabilities. There are also efforts being made to reach Spanish-speaking youth through 4-H called Juntos,

“They were realizing the kinds of youth who were not joining, so it’s expanded,” she said. “We want to make sure all groups feel welcomed and included.”

There is not enough newsprint to include the story of every Page County 4-H family. Page County Newspapers made several phone calls asking who would be good examples of what 4-H has done to individuals and families over the years. The families we talked to were the ones were referred. We speculate what these families and people experienced can be shared in one way or another with other 4-H participants.

Bleeding 4-H green

David Stephens and sister Traci Haselhuhn joked being in 4-H is a genetic trait inherited from their parents.

“They grew up in two different counties,” Traci said about her parents Janelle and Howard. “Dad was from Villisca and mom from Clarinda. They carpooled together to a southwest Iowa 4-H winter camp and that’s how they met.”

That campsite became part of the Stephens family in various ways.

“They had their honeymoon there,” she said about her parents. “I worked at that camp and David met his wife at the camp and they married there,” she said. “It’s home territory.”

Formally known as Clover Woods Camp located south of Boone, it’s a popular location for various 4-H events. As an employee, Traci led camps there from 2001 to 2009.

As their parents were influenced and involved by 4-H during their younger years, David, Traci and sister Emily continued what their parents started.

“Mom was a 4-H leader and I was dragged along,” David laughed. “(sister) Emily whined, ‘When can I join.’ There were no Clover Kids then.”

Traci, 41, and David, 39, explained how when they joined 4-H some 30 years ago, the organization was changing as it merged boys and girls-only clubs. The Clarinda Page-ettes, which had about 15 girls, grew to nearly 40 when the boys joined. The merger forced a name change to the Clarinda Classics, the club the two lead today. Emily lives in Albia.

As members, their club was the right size to have meetings in member’s houses.

“That didn’t last long,” David said. “We grew. We saw where we could take over from a school room to a fairground’s building.”

Those early years, the two showed rabbits.

“Dad always had a farm project,” Traci said. Rabbits became tradition for the two as a 4-H camp was dedicated to raising and showing rabbits.

“Years later, we have a barn full of 100 rabbits. David and I are both showing. Dad is talking like they are his own pets. He was fully into that,” she said.

Traci said 4-H gave her plenty of opportunities to see what she liked, good at, and what she wasn’t good at.

“I think I tried a little bit of everything. With rabbits, we started attending open shows year round and not just at fair. As I got older, it got me into citizenship and leadership. You get to try and learn things, and thing you are not good at. Me? It’s woodworking.”

Another 4-H project taking off for David, literally, was model rockets. The rockets were boosted by engines that lit similar to a firecracker. And when the formal, model-rocket kits were not around, he tinkered with making his own rockets out of plastic, photography film canisters.

“You can’t find those anymore,” he said. “Rockets to rabbits. That’s the beauty of 4-H.”

David said his mother wanted to know how much 4-H involved his social life.

“You bring home a girl to meet the parents and mom later asks if she was in 4-H. That was always the first question,” he said.

Family vacations were to volunteer at the Iowa State Fair to help assemble displays in 4-H buildings. Traci was named Page County Fair queen in 1995.

As the two aged, they were able to build off their 4-H foundation. Traci attended the National 4-H Congress in Memphis, Tennessee. The event involves 4-H members in leadership, citizenship and educational workshops. That eventually led her to trips to Washington D.C. being a program assistant for a 4-H event in Maryland.

“I was a college-aged tour guide,” she laughed.

She would assist 4-H members across the country with a tour of Washington D.C. and meetings with Congressmen.

David was able to have 4-H as a career.

“I always like the idea of doing what Ron Sanson did,” he said. Sanson retired in 2000 as a Page County Extension agent. “Ron got me set up to meet with Fred Hoiberg’s dad (Eric) who was the associate dean of agriculture at Iowa State,” he said.

Fred played college basketball at Iowa State and in the National Basketball Association. He now coaches the men’s team at the University of Nebraska.

David’s wife Betsy is an Iowa State graduate and they lived in Ames. He saw a help wanted ad for the extension youth coordinator in Humboldt County. After some research of the area and organization, he took the job in 2006 knowing at the time there were less than 100 kids in 4-H.

“It was an uphill battle,” he said about trying to develop Humboldt County’s clubs. “My first goal was to grow numbers.”

He resigned in 2012 to return to Page County and involve his children in 4-H. One of his children was born during county fair time. They took over leadership of the Clarinda Classics club three years ago.

“We relate it to the ‘Wizard of Oz.’ We saw behind the veil. Thanks to mom, we saw all the work from boxing everything up, hauling it and taking it home. We knew the work,” Traci said.

The two said much of 4-H’s fundamentals are still strong today, but in a different environment compared to their time as members.

“More parents were home then and had time to organize workshops,” David said. “Now, it’s hard to find families who can get away (to assist with 4-H).”

David admits he’s living through his kids in 4-H as they are doing projects he didn’t do as a member.

“Clover kids can jump in earlier than we did,” he said.

Traci said some 4-H things can get finished faster with the growth of technology from emails to the Internet.

“When something happened, mom had a calling tree,” she said.

The two said their lives wouldn’t be the same without 4-H. And 4-H does not necessarily have to be the same each year either.

“Our mom wanted us to try and to dedicate each year to a certain subject. Now, with a plethora of options, you can expand your horizons and try different things.”

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The next generation

Helping 4-H kids with sheep is like a form of time travel for Austin Nothwehr.

“I saw myself in some of those kids,” said the Page County farmer near Yorktown who has been a livestock judge at other fairs. “It’s a unique perspective. That’s why I enjoyed judging 4-H livestock.”

Nothwehr’s involvement with 4-H began during his childhood. The family was regular attendants at the Page County Fair and joining 4-H was automatic.

“I felt comfortable right away,” he remembered about joining the club. “The other kids in the club were ones you went to school with.”

Nothwehr attended the Lutheran School when it was in Yorktown. He joined the Lincoln Leaders club, which no longer exists. “Leaders was the boys’ club. Luckies was the girls’ club.

He was a 4-H member for 10 years and showed sheep, working exhibits, photography and was part of county council.

“Sheep was always the main project,” he said.

Coincidentally, wife Jennifer, showed sheep during her 4-H years growing up in Randolph County, Missouri.

The interest in sheep dominated Austin’s 4-H experience has he showed through high school. When attending Northwest Missouri State University, he participated in livestock judging and joined an agriculture-related fraternity. He credits 4-H for many of those decisions.

“There are a lot of things learned in 4-H from giving presentations to leadership activities,” he said.

Jennifer said her 4-H experiences as a youth were not exactly like Austin’s.

“Missouri 4-H is a little different. Iowa seems more independent projects and the kids are responsible. I had more project meetings and leaders who checked on projects,” she said. “For example, if there was a woodworking meeting, everyone did woodworking.”

Daughter Riley, 13, is in her fourth year in 4-H.

“I’ve learned as the years progress,” she said. “I’m more confident now.

Like her parents, she also shows sheep.

“I always wanted to do 4-H, especially sheep, since it was what dad did,” she said. “Sheep are not the same. They have different personalities. Some put up a fight more than the others.”

Through 4-H, Riley said she has learned other things working on projects.

Riley has also used family genealogy as a 4-H project and experienced the Iowa State Fair.

“It’s a huge arena,” she said about the sheep show. “It’s bigger than what I’ve ever been in. I know I can do this,” she said. “It’s just the same thing as the county fair.”

Chandy, 10, is in her first year of 4-H as she had tagged along with Riley to meetings. Chandy said she is interested in woodworking.

“I like 4-H meetings,” Chandy said. “I have watched Riley from the beginning.”

As a kid growing up on a farm around livestock and showing hogs in 4-H, it sparked an interest in Dennis Liljedahl who lives near Essex to further his education in that area and continue in that line of work.

Dennis’ parents, Charles and Eileen Liljedahl, began the operation of Liljedahl Farms, Inc. in Essex in 1957. Dennis returned to the family farm in 1975, and his son Drew in 2006, making it a three-generation family farm.

“I was involved in 4-H when I was in school,” said Dennis. “My parents were also 4-H leaders while I was in 4-H. My mother continued as a 4-H leader several years after I graduated too.”

Eileen continued her role as a 4-H leader in the community where she lived.

“She continued to help neighborhood and local Essex girls with sewing projects,” said Diane. “She was involved in continuing some of the traditions of teaching girls how to sew and cook.”

Dennis and Diane carried on the family tradition serving as leaders in both Fremont Farmers and Fremont 4-H Club organizations. Both their son, Drew, and daughter, Abbey, were members of the Fremont Farmers and Fremont 4-H Club from fourth grade through high school.

“We’ve continued that commitment a little as 4-H supporters,” said Diane. “I continued to help with the home economics department, and Dennis helped with the swine show. I also continue to serve on the 4-H endowment Page County Board.”

Dennis explained 4-H is not just about livestock projects.

“4-H has a lot of skills,” said Dennis. “At the time we did demonstrations which now they call presentations. That would involve giving a talk about how to do something like gun safety or how to bake a cake.”

“At the county level, you would do presentations with a partner,” said Dennis. “Usually, two people would give the presentation together on a subject.”

Dennis said they didn’t think about it at the time, but these exercises built teamwork and public speaking skills. He also said the business meetings the club held helped teach the procedures of how to run a parliamentary meeting.

“It just offered a lot of life skills you got a chance to practice when you were young,” said Dennis.

Drew showed cattle and hogs during 4-H while Abbey was involved in the home economic part of the program.

“It reinforced that agriculture was something I wanted to be involved in too down the road,” said Drew. “It helped with leadership skills and record keeping. It gave you a preview of what might be in store down the road working with your farm or livestock.”

Drew serves on the Page County Extension Council and farms with his dad. Drew serves on the Page County Extension Council and farms with his dad. Dennis and Diane’s daughter Abbey lives in Kansas City.

While Abbey was involved in 4-H, she made a wool jumper as a clothing and textile project and 4-H Fashion Revue. She entered the jumper at the county fair, where she won and advanced on to the Iowa State Fair and won a purple ribbon. From there, she was encouraged to enter into the Iowa Make It With Wool competition and won a sewing machine.

Abbey said when applying for a summer job during college in Lake of the Ozarks, she realized participating in 4-H had increased her communication and public speaking skills.

Being involved in a 4-H Club is a family activity.

“From getting your projects ready, it doesn’t matter. If it’s livestock, home economics, or photography projects, it’s pretty much a family activity,” said Diane. “So grandparents, parents, and everybody gives their support.”

Diane also said having different ages of kids working together in the 4-H club allowed the older kids to be role models for the younger kids.

When you hear 4-H Club, the first thing you may think of is livestock. That stigma is not true.

Dan and Jenni Hansen explain there are several projects available for kids not related to livestock.

Dan and Jenni restarted the Tarkio 4-H Club last year and are in their second year of being the leaders. The Tarkio 4-H club is a non-livestock club with 21 members and is registered for quite a few activities and projects. There are five categories not related to livestock: agriculture and natural resource, creative arts, family and consumer science, personal development and science, engineering and technology. Within each category, there are multiple projects for the kids.

Dan explained for a service project last year, they went to a food pantry and helped sort and stock the shelves. They also learned how they dispense the food and how the program worked.

“We try different projects to give the members different experiences and help get them ready for fair. We try to do a presentation every month,” said Dan. “Every member of the Tarkio 4-H Club has to give a presentation once a year.”

A 4-H presentation is given by a club member in front of a group. The presentation is the member’s opportunity to share what they learned from their project. Presentations help build public speaking skills.

Dan said the leaders help guide the members and help them make good decisions. He said as leaders, they try to empower them to make decisions about what they want to do at fair and how they can make that happen.

“So you really see the kids take some ownership in that,” said Dan. “When we were actually at the fair, we really saw them dig in and take responsibility for the responsibilities the club had. Some of them were more proactive, stepping up and leading. That was fun as well.”

Dan said a lot of the kids in their club had never been to the fair before.

“When we got to the fair last year, and they saw some of the different projects and categories, they were excited,” said Dan. “They had a lot of fun and are planning on pursuing some of those projects this year.”

Dan said last year being their first year as a club, he enjoyed seeing the expressions on the faces of the kids when their projects were judged at the fair and they would receive a blue ribbon or advanced on to the Iowa State Fair.

He also explained there are responsibilities for each club at the fair.

“As fair got closer and we were laying out our responsibilities of what each club was expected to do,” said Dan, “every family stepped up, and we covered every shift we had to work. We covered every pie we had to bake. We all worked together. I think the families that didn’t know each other real well got to know each other a little better. I was really impressed with that.”

Dan and Jenni’s daughter Ali is in the fifth grade and a 4-H member.

Ali did the “Buckets of Junk” project. With this project, art is created from pieces of scrap metal.

“Instead of welding, I used JB Weld and made a tractor and a plow,” said Ali. JB Weld is a hard bond adhesive that sets overnight.

Ali also participated in the sewing club, where she learned how to use a sewing machine. She was able to make a cable cozy, bookmarks, an apron and a dress. Last year Ali was club historian and enjoyed putting together the historian book. The historian book is a scrapbook of what the club has done over the past year.

“I’m a Historian again this year, so I’m happy,” said Ali.

Dan said this year as part of Ali’s Child Development project in the Tarkio 4-H Club she is helping with the Clover Kids club that Jenni leads. Clover Kids is a 4-H program designed for children in kindergarten through third grade. They also meet once a month, and the curriculum is STEM-based.

“So it’s all hands-on activities incorporating science and reading,” said Jenni.

Their son Andy is in first grade and a member of the Clover Kids Club.

Andy enjoyed a project they made using clothespins that they painted red, white and blue and pinned on a wreath frame to make a patriotic door hanger. Jenni was involved in 4-H growing up and said it helped grow leadership skills and helped with time management.

“I would say it’s pretty empowering to the kids,” said Jenni, “because at first there all timid and scared but by fair time when their presenting and talking to the judges they had grown so much individually in just a year. That was fun to watch. They made a lot of new friends too,” said Jenni, “because it’s a large age span they met kids they probably wouldn’t have met otherwise.”

Unlike Jenni, Dan didn’t participate in 4-H growing up. His first experience was helping with Clover Kids for a year before their daughter Ali transitioned into the older club.

Dan and Jenni said livestock is a big component of the fair, and it’s an important component but there are other things for a club that doesn’t have livestock.

“There’s still plenty of opportunity and a lot of life skills,” said Jenni.

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