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Shelby celebrates 100 years of 4-H

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By Lisa King

John E. Kalmey remembered back to 1939, when he and his wife, Nina, attended 4-H Jr. Week.

"We didn't know each other yet, but we found out later, we had both gone to it," he said, laughing.

Kalmey, a former cattle farmer, said he plans to round up his 4-H scrapbook and take it to the Shelby County Extension Office this afternoon, where the county will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of 4-H in Kentucky.

Regina Browning, Shelby County extension agent for 4-H Youth Development since 2007, said the celebration will include a birthday cake and an exhibit of historic 4-H items, including old record books, as well as personal items people have brought in to share such as awards and trophies they've won, and projects they've completed.

"There have been several celebrations statewide, but we wanted to do something on the local level," she said.

Todd Stephens, FFA advisor at Shelby County High School, said he thinks a local celebration is a good idea because of the roll the organization has always played here.

"4-H is very important to Shelby County," he said.

4-H originated in Kentucky in 1909 when county agents came up with the idea of letting children try new farming practices on a small scale as a way of getting their parents to be more receptive of adopting new farming practices.

The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service lists the first 4-H Club as being organized in Fayette County by Professor George Roberts.

According to 4HUSA.org, the seed of the 4-H idea of practical and "hands-on" learning came from the desire to make public school education more connected to country life. Early programs tied both public and private resources together for the purpose of helping rural youth.

During this time, researchers at the land-grant colleges system and the USDA saw that people in the farming community would accept new agricultural ideas more readily when they came from their children, so rural youth programs became a way to introduce new agriculture technology to the adults.

Ohio is considered the birthplace of 4-H program in the United States, because A.B. Graham started one such youth program in that state in 1902.

Congress created the Cooperative Extension Service at USDA in 1914, which soon became known as 4-H clubs - Head, Heart, Hands, and Health.

In 1948, 4-H went international when a group of young people went to Europe and a group of Europeans came to the United States on the first International Farm Youth Exchange. Shortly afterward, 4-H began to extend into urban areas.

Later, the focus of 4-H became the personal growth of the member. Life skills development was built into 4-H projects, activities and events to help youth become contributing, productive, self-directed members of society.

Stephens, who is also an agriculture teacher at SCHS, said that when he joined 4-H as a youngster, 4-H helped his personal growth tremendously.

"As a boy, to me, 4-H was the backbone of teaching me responsibility. My students who come out of 4-H are a step ahead of the other students."

He added that he thinks that 4-H also gets kids interested in agriculture-based careers, and Browning agrees.

"As a kid, I was involved in 4-H growing up, and by the time I went to college, I knew I wanted to be an extension agent," she said.

Larry Gravett, who  was a dairy farmer until he sold the dairy three years ago, said 4-H offered a way to show cattle at fairs, win trophies and just have fun with his friends.

Kalmey said he started in 4-H, "when I was 9 years old, mostly showing Holstein dairy cattle," a tradition that has continued with all three of his children, Joyce, Janice and John, the latter of whom is still a dairy farmer in Shelby County.

"The girls were tomboys. They weren't much interested in sewing or canning like their mother was. They just wanted to show the cattle," he said chuckling.

The celebration at the extension office will take place Wednesday from 3 to 7 p.m.

  4-H Timeline  

• 1909:     Ag agents began to encourage youngsters to do projects

• 1911:     Four-leaf clover symbol adopted

• 1912:     First 4-H camp

• 1913:      First female agent hired to start Home Ec programs

• 1914:     Statewide enrollment at 1,250

• 1917:     Clubs spread to 42 counties, enrollment almost 4,000

• 1920:     First clubs started for black youth

• 1924:     Congress granted copyright of four leaf clover symbol

• 1928:     First Kentucky delegates attend national 4-H convention

• 1930:     First members joined who did not live on a farm

• 1935:     25,000 enrolled

• 1936:     National enrollment exceeds 1 million

• 1939:     4-H Clubs established in all 120 Kentucky counties

• 1942:     Kentucky's grand champion lamb sent to President FDR

• 1949:     4-H goes international

• 1959:     National 4-H Center opens in Maryland

• 1964:     4-H desegregated in Kentucky

• 1973:     4-H pledge includes the words, "My world."

• 1979:     4-H enrollment reaches 254,000

• 1995:     National effort makes 4-H available on every U.S. Army base in the world

• 2002:     100th anniversary of 4-H in the U.S.

• 2004:     www.kentucky4-H.org established

• 2009:     Kentucky celebrates 100th Anniversary of 4-H