Folks Who Helped Make 4-H Great
Dr. E. W. Aiton

In coming months we will feature short bios of ten people who were selected by professional Extension workers in 1962 as having made significant contributions to the 4-H program: people who “helped make 4-H great.” The original series was first published in 1962 in National 4-H News and is reprinted here. To select the individuals to be featured, National 4-H News “…asked more than 30 veteran 4-H workers to send us their list of the ‘top ten’ contributors. We tallied the results and chose the ten people mentioned most often …” From a historical perspective, these individuals are the ones to whom 4-H owes its creativity and dynamism, its solid and experiential education principles, its enduring strength. These are the ones on whose shoulders this remarkable youth development proudly stands today.

This series stands as a tribute to those visionary leaders to whom we are greatly indebted.

The following story is from the August 2015 issue of the 4-H History Preservation Newsletter


Drawing from February, 1962 National 4-H News.

There is no doubt in observers’ minds as to the contributions which Dr. E. W. Aiton has made to the youth movement which has been so much a part of his life. Testaments to his vision and determination are plentiful in today’s 4-H program.

What is the background that has led this man to his being named in a list of ten people who have contributed so much to 4-H? For one thing, a 4-H career that has included every level of 4-H work: member, junior leader, adult leader (even at this time), county Extension worker, state and federal 4-H staff member.

Starting as a farm boy in Minnesota, Aiton moved steadily up the professional ladder. In 1960, after serving eight years as the first director of 4-H Club and YMW (Young Men and Women’s) Programs in the Federal Extension Service, he was appointed assistant administrator of the FES (Federal Extension Service).

The marks of Dr. Aiton’s influence are present in many places in 4-H. One is in the International Farm Youth Exchange (IFYE) program, which he helped to found while he was Northeastern regional 4-H field agent in Washington, D. C., from 1944 to 1950. New York State 4-H Club Leader Al Hoefer and a group of 4-H’ers journeyed to Washington with an international program in mind, and Aiton was assigned to help them. The result: IFYE.

The National 4-H Club Center is another monument to Aiton’s ability to organize, then carry out a needed project. During a stint as executive director of the National 4-H Club Foundation (from 1950 to 1952), he initiated many services to 4-H as well as pushing the planning of the widely-used Center.

As the first director of the Division of 4-H and YMW Programs, Aiton wielded a great influence on club work nationally. His efforts helped increase public understanding of 4-H. (During his Extension career in Minnesota, he once served as state Extension editor.) He helped clarify the working relationship between the national policy-making group in 4-H and its parent Extension committee. He contributed to building the role of state 4-H Club leaders as professional educators. He developed the status of local 4-H leaders and blazed trails in their training and development. (He is co-author of the book “Leadership in Action in Rural Communities.) 1 Young Men and Women’s 2 Federal Extension Service

Other 4-H areas promoted by Aiton and felt directly by 4-H Club members include: · Citizenship as the main goal of 4-H Club work, rather than merely the learning of skills. · An adjustment to the changing membership of 4-H – that is, an expansion of the program to include more activities for urban and suburban members. · Emphasis on 4-H’ers understanding international affairs and relating them to club activities. · Development of literature, training meetings, etc., tailored to fit the development needs of members at different ages and with different problems. · Strengthening or working relations with many youth groups such as the Boy Scouts of America and others. ED NOTE: The auditorium of the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland, is named in memory of Dr. Aiton.


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4-H in the Movies

The following is from the July, 1960, monthly column, “Washington News and Views,” by the federal Extension 4-H staff, which appeared in National 4-H News. This particular column was written by Dr. E. W. Aiton, Director,, 4-H and Young Men and Women Programs (YMW).

“4-H pops up in the most interesting places! Now it’s in the big time motion picture business. I’m writing this article from Hollywood, California. Tomorrow morning we give a final review and approval to a feature-length movie that’s all about a 4-H community in Katy, Texas. The title is ‘Tomboy and the Champ.’ You’ll see it soon in your neighborhood theatre.

“The part of the ‘Tomboy’ is a very nice but determined little orphan girl. You’ll shed a tear or two because polio nearly spoils her 4-H hopes and dreams. but her foster parents, the local club members and an understanding rural pastor help her over the rough places. We hope you like it.

“We always get a tremendous thrill out of working with folks who see in 4-H a chance to tell a wholesome story about the good things that happen in America. This motion picture is another example.

“While flying here to filmland this afternoon I was reminded of an almost forgotten contribution of 4-H to the stars. Once long ago our small town family doctor telephoned and said ‘Ed, we have a mighty sick little baby here. It’s Judy Gumm. We can’t find any food that agrees with her. Will you take real special care of some low-butterfat milk and bring it in fresh twice a day. Strain it and cool it carefully and…’

“So ‘Toots’ — my Holstein 4-H heifer — became an experimental foster mother for about six months. The whole town was mighty pleased that tiny Judy began to feel better right away. at three, she started singing with her father on the stage at the local theatre, between the first and second shows. And later, )you’ve already guessed it) she changed her name to Judy Garland, whom you know as the film and TV icon.

“I hope that every 4-H boy and girl can experience a similar thrill by making someone happy or healthy, producing something, becoming somebody or doing something useful and worthwhile. That’s why we use the term 4-H WORK. It implies service and usefulness. Also, that’s why 4-H should be kept flexible — so that local leaders, parents and 4-H members can shape and fit it to local needs and problems. How fortunate that our 4-H ‘project outline and requirements’ for the heifer program was flexible enough to market the milk from ‘Toots’ in a very unusual way for six months. That’s the way it must always be in 4-H, so we can always say ‘When ‘A Star is Born’ — 4-H helped to raise it to the sky.'”