4-H History Project Comes to Life for Missouri Youth

Story and Photo: Linda Geist, University of Missouri Extension;
Story Source: Velynda Cameron

Fourteen-year-old Michaela Higginbotham of Bolivar expected to learn about the history of Polk County 4-H when she began working on a national 4-H history project. But she was happy to uncover her own family’s rich 4-H tradition as well. She is one of Polk County 4-H members who helped gather and display 4-H memorabilia in the county’s museum as part of the National 4-H History Preservation Program. Cards stored in the county courthouse chronicle the projects her grandfather, uncles and cousins enjoyed while they were members.

As a six year member of Woodlawn 4-H club, Higginbotham is following in her ancestor’s footsteps. She discovered a picture of her great-grandmother (who died before she was born) who was a Volunteer Leader, as is Michaela’s mother, a 10-year Polk County 4-H alumna currently leading her club’s bread project. She also unearthed a picture of her mother on the front page of a special 4-H section of the local newspaper.

Polk County 4-H’ers Michaela Higginbotham and Jacob Toombs look over some of the 4-H memorabilia they helped collect for a display in the Polk County Museum in Bolivar, MO.
Courthouse records also showed that the ancestors of 12-year-old Jacob Toombs of Bolivar participated in beef projects; one of the most dedicated volunteers on the history project, Jacob now shows Hereford cattle in 4-H.

University of Missouri Extension 4-H youth development specialist Velynda Cameron learned about the national “Voices of 4-H History” project at a previous 4-H FilmFest in Branson. Members were asked to make audio and video recordings of former members as part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act, which created the national cooperative extension system.

The Polk County Commission offered 4-H memorabilia found in courthouse storage, and a small, enthusiastic group of 4-H members expressed interest in having Polk County represented in the national project. They painstakingly pored through newspapers, microfilm and 4-H annual reports to gather information. Their research shows that Polk County 4-H club work began in 1926 with two garment-making clubs and 15 members. By 1928 there were 54 clubs in the county and 422 active members. Today there are 10 clubs and 186 members, Cameron said.

The Bolivar Herald-Free Press published articles seeking memorabilia from former 4-H’ers, and current members began interviewing alumni from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Items began pouring in, including an extensive collection from 84-year-old Betty Ammerman, who had kept a diary of her 4-H days.

Museum curator Margaret Vest suggested the group put a display in the “school room” section of the Polk County Museum, since 4-H groups met at rural schools and teachers often led projects. Ammerman’s diary gives glimpses of the past such as “How to Cover and Make a Stool for a Dressing Table from a Nail Keg” in 1942.

Higginbotham volunteers at the Polk County Museum and encourages older family members to go through the museum with her because the displays often inspire them to tell her stories about their past. “This project is really special to me because I can see what other people have done,” she says. She’s hopeful that future generations will be inspired by her love of 4-H. “I like visiting other places, going to contests and going to Achievement Day. I just love 4-H. It’s really, really fun.”

Polk County 4-H'ers Michaela Higginbotham and Jacob Toombs look over some of the 4-H memorabilia they helped collect for a display in the Polk County Museum in Bolivar, MO.

Polk County 4-H’ers Michaela Higginbotham and Jacob Toombs look over some of the 4-H memorabilia they helped collect for a display in the Polk County Museum in Bolivar, MO.

A video of the club’s history is on the Polk County Extension Center website at http://Extension.Missouri.edu/Polk/4H.aspx

Polk County’s 4-H club is the first club in Missouri to participate in the “Voices of 4-H History” program, which aims to increase public awareness of 4-H by collecting and preserving audio, video and print information. Cameron encourages others with 4-H memorabilia to contact her at Cameronv@Missouri.edu.

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Starting a 4-H Collection

The main reason people collect is for enjoyment. You collect in a category that you like. Perhaps your collection brings back pleasant memories of your childhood — in this case, maybe that firs 4-H ribbon or the first pie you baked. You remember the nostalgia involved — going to the 4-H fair; the smell of the cotton candy, the midway, the livestock arena, the competitions… fun with friends and family. Your 4-H club meetings were special events on your calendar — perhaps the very first group you belonged to at this early age. 4-H camp may well have been the first experience away from home. Accurately maintaining a 4-H record book, while perhaps not the most pleasant task at the time, was probably a new experience of accountability. And, your first 4-H speech may have been the first time you had to stand up and talk to a group. All of these things are memories and one of the best ways to preserve and relive memories is to collect the artifacts associated with those memories.

Thousand of past 4-H members are active collectors… some just may not know it! May 4-H participants, when through with their 4-H years, packed away their ribbons and buttons and other 4-H items in a shoe box or manila envelope and it ended up in the closet, in a trunk, in the attic or basement… but it still was a collection of memories.

Many 4-H alumni, agents and leaders, even active members, are acquiring impressive 4-H collections in dozens of different areas, particularly in recent years with the ability to surf the Internet, seeking items for their collections.

The National 4-H History Preservation Program, through a special website — http://4-HCollecting.com — is helping these collectors by gathering information on various collecting areas and providing channels of communications so collectors can communicate with one another. Personal 4-H collections are an important and integral part of national 4-H history.

For additional information visit the website or contact the history program at: Info@4-HHistoryPreservation.com

Larry Krug

WA collection of pins and buttons for 4-H.
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4-H Collectors Club Website Goes Live

The 4-H Collectors Club website – 4-HCollecting.com – went live on February 1, 2010. As part of the National 4-H History Preservation Program, the 4-H Collectors Club promotes education, research and preservation regarding the history of 4-H through the collecting and trading of 4-H and 4-H related memorabilia.

The Club is a service provided by the National 4-H History Preservation Program supported by National 4-H Council and National 4-H Headquarters at USDA. The 4-HCollecting.com website is intended to support all those who have an interest in collecting or who may have 4-H memorabilia they would like to know a little more about – particularly through the discussion forum.

The site also provides a means for buying, selling and trading 4-H memorabilia of a historic nature.

You can join the club from the website. Membership is free. For additional information contact: info@4-HHistoryPreservation.com

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