Posted on September 29, 2011 at 5:11 PM by Global Reach
4-H and the Clay County Fair
Many people associate 4-H in Clay County with the Clay County Fair. The 4-H program played a significant role in the creation of an annual fair. Regular fairs had been held in the 1870s and 80s but, while interest remained, there is no evidence that a fair was held again until 1913 when Spencer merchants organized a Clay County Fair and Picnic. As the 1916 report highlighting work from the inception of Extension in Clay County in 1913 to the date of the report points out, “Clay County has not had a county fair and from interest aroused by the stock shows held each year we were able to organize a permanent County Fair Association.” The intention of the Fair Association was to “conduct annually one of the largest stock shows in northern Iowa”.
Initially 4-H livestock exhibits were housed in tents and exhibitors had to find their own accommodations. In 1929 the boys’ and girls’ club building was constructed with a connected boys’ dormitory, indoor arena, and livestock barns. In 1947 a new indoor arena, new barns, and a new “modern” boys’ dormitory were built. The 4-H home economic exhibits shared space in the women’s building and the agricultural hall until 1971 when a separate Girl’s 4-H display building was completed. While the boys’ dormitory is no longer in existence, the former Girls’ 4-H Building now houses 4-H static exhibits. With significant design assistance provided by Iowa State University Extension, the fair association with the help of 75 4-H youth, renovated the exhibit space in 2004. The auditorium space will be renovated by the 2005 fair.
The public was drawn to the great variety of attractions at the Fair that were augmented by 4-H exhibits and activities. It grew from a local event to encompass the whole county, and eventually to a host site for multi-county district livestock shows. Girls’ demonstration teams and home economic projects were a popular draw to the agricultural hall and later, the Girls’ 4-H display building. Many area stockmen were involved with the 4-H shows and there was an annual parade of 4-H livestock in front of the grandstand, with up to 400 head of show animals and their young exhibitors. The 4-H exhibits have also had to stand on their own. The Clay County Fair was not held during World War II, but according to the book 75 Years – Clay County Fair by Mary Huston, “there was a 4-H Show of some size each of those years”.
The scope of the Clay County Fair also provided valuable national publicity for Iowa 4-H. In 1936 NBC broadcast a national radio show live during the first Sunday of the Fair. It featured several 4-Hers bantering with news commentator John B. Kennedy. Kennedy was later quoted as saying “meeting these fine boys and girls from the farms out here is just like taking a deep breath in early spring.” The October 10, 1949 issue of Life Magazine highlighted 4-Hers at the fair in a 9 page photo spread and article. 4-Hers were featured in competitions as well as enjoying the fair. The article described an idyllic but competitive fair, and the reporter said he would “always think kindly of farm people and admire their character having once seen them at such close quarters”.
While the Clay County Fair had occasionally sponsored a fair queen contest not affiliated with 4-H, it wasn’t until the mid 1970s that 4-H began awarding the title of 4-H Queen. The queen was chosen at Achievement Day and presided over 4-H events at the fair that fall. The contest was not sponsored by the fair and the queens often did not travel to the state fair. The 4-H affiliated contest was discontinued after about 10 years, and the fair did not have another queen until 2004 when the fair-affiliated contest was renewed.
4-H as an organization
Between 1913 and 1916, 29 4-H clubs were formed with an average yearly enrollment of about 300 boys and girls. Initially the boys’ (agriculture) clubs and girls’, (home economics) clubs were separate entities with different Extension personnel in charge of each. However, girls may have been involved in the “boys’” clubs from the beginning. In 1925 over 20% of the members enrolled in Clay County youth livestock projects were girls.
Livestock exhibition was a cornerstone of 4-H club formation in the early years. For many years every township had a boys’ club and the most popular project was baby beeves. In 1938 Clay County claimed the largest county beef show in Iowa with 170 4-H members showing 274 head. By the 1940 Clay County Fair the numbers had swelled to 435 calves exhibited. Other early agriculture projects were dairy calves, hogs, poultry, and draft colts. By 1941 horses on farms had decreased to the point that the Extension Director felt it was “difficult to conduct a successful colt project. However, a good showing was made in the face of these difficulties.” Soon after this, the colt project is no longer mentioned. After a faltering start in the early 1930s the western lamb project grew to the point that 2,317 lambs from nine counties were exhibited in Clay County in January of 1938. The Annual Report claims the show was “the largest 4-H fat lamb show ever held in the United States” to that date. There was also intermittent interest in a corn project, as well as other agricultural education that was not listed as official project areas.
The girls’ clubs started slower, and frequently not every township had girls enrolled, or townships shared a club. However, in difficult economic times when boys clubs may have suffered from the high cost of raising livestock, girls clubs seemed to have flourished for their focus on savvy housekeeping and thrift. According to the 1933 Annual Report, a total of $230.62 was saved by 4-H members by making 317 articles of home furnishings, rather than buying them new.
From the early days of Clay County 4-H Achievement Days were held annually for the 4-H Girls and Farm Bureau Women to exhibit projects and give demonstrations. As in other counties, all the girls in the county pursued the same project area, which rotated from year to year. For instance in one year all the projects would be items of home furnishing and all the demonstrations would be about how to construct, refurbish, or arrange home furnishings. Achievement Days also served as a chance for exhibits and demonstrations to be selected for State Fair in a county where the fair is held after the Iowa State Fair. Currently the event is divided into Communication Day in June and Achievement Day in July, and youth are select to exhibit at the State Fair.
The emphasis of 4-H was strictly rural for many years, and with much of the population of Clay County living on farms, this provided for a successful program. Activities were intimately tied to farm life, with reports that “since the weather was exceptionally favorable to work in the fields, some of the teams were eliminated [from the softball tournament] by lack of players” (1941 Annual Report), and that a girls demonstration team competition was made more difficult because many of the mothers, who acted as coaches, had threshers in their homes.
Through the 1950s agriculture remained the driving force behind the program. While there is mention of world affairs, public policy, and career training in 1950 only about 10% of the enrollment was made up of non-farm youth. Project activities, particularly in boys’ 4-H, still focused on farm related topics, such as the inception of a plowing contest as the culmination of a year-long study of tractor care and plow adjustment. The 1950 Annual Report had a very positive outlook on 4-H enrollment, and claimed that nearly 50% of the boys in Clay County of 4-H age were enrolled. By 1965 the Annual Report stated that 4-H was only reaching about 16% of eligible youth in the county and that many older youth were leaving the program. In order to counteract this trend a joint boys’ and girls’ club geared toward careers, personal development, and clothing for boys was organized and open to all 4-H club members over 15. However, it does not appear to have lasted a year. The decline in rural population was illustrated by a 1959 survey of 4-H alumni from 1940, 1945, 1950, and 1955 which showed only 44% were still employed on the farm. In 1962 another urban club started, and there is no mention of when it disbanded. Despite a decided effort to broaden the scope of projects and increase career exploration opportunities, the image of 4-H as a rural program was still in place as was illustrated by a 1963 full page newspaper ad celebrating 4-H week that featured a boy in front of a barn with a litter of pigs. There is also mention of meetings with school superintendents to encourage them to have a more favorable view of excusing absences for 4-H activities, which may be due to a shift in focus away from agriculture in the general public.
Along with a move to be more inclusive of urban youth in 4-H, the program was becoming increasingly integrated as far as gender was concerned. While girls may have been involved with the agricultural 4-H program nearly from the beginning, they were usually only recorded in the statistical reports, but not mentioned in narratives. A notable change came when many rural Iowa women and girls were experiencing what many of their counterparts across the nation encountered. The 1946 Annual Report points out that “due to lack of adequate farm help, many girls drove tractors, trucks, and detasseled corn during the summer months”. Another telling indication of girls place in the Agricultural 4-H program is that champion photos in the 1950s showed a marked increase in the number of girls winning with livestock at the Clay County Fair. In the 1950s boys’ and girls’ clubs also started to work together on several activities including officer training, parties, and 4-H floats for annual parades, but the programs still operated independently.
Again, as the goals of the program were changing to increase parity between the boys and girls, the actual practice often lagged behind. In 1952, 15 years after the inception of the annual boys’ basketball tournament, there was a mention of starting a girls’ basketball tournament, but there is no evidence it was ever held. In 1976, 39 years after the boys tournament started, 4-Her Marcia Salton Langner wrote in her record book “I’m really happy this year that the 4-H program has gotten the girls in basketball!” after having noted the year before that the tournament was only for boys. It remained integrated until the tournaments ended in the mid 1980s after 4-H Executive Committee minutes indicated a decrease in participation. At the same time, Clay County joined 4-H clubs all over the state in changing club names to reflect federal mandated gender neutrality. This change was in response to the interpretation of the Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments, insuring the end of discrimination on the basis of gender.
There was no youth specialist employed by Clay County for a brief time in the mid 1980s and a 4-H executive committee provided leadership to many program activities. The committee was instrumental in the diversification of project areas pursued in the county. In 1986 the committee planned and carried out the Clay County 4-H Extravaganza, where different project areas were highlighted by volunteer experts from the community. The first year 57% of the 4-Hers in the county attended, and the science and engineering exhibits at the fair increased 28%. The Extravaganza also helped launch the small animal project areas, as the number of exhibits went from three exhibits in 1985 to 83 at the 1986 fair. During the 1980s, not only did the variety of exhibits increase in the less traditional static exhibit project areas, but boys began exhibiting more frequently in areas traditionally reserved for girls. Girls continued to participate in agricultural projects. Clay County 4-H also produced a very successful all girl’s livestock judging team which often beat the boys in this previously male dominated competition.
4-H and Personal Development
Clay County has a long tradition of providing state, national, and international opportunities for its 4-H members. Only 2 years after Extension began in Clay County 4-H members were being sent on national trips to stock shows and exhibitions. For many years, beginning in 1917, club boys attended the short courses offered in Ames each winter. Often 4-Hers were awarded trips based on demonstrations, exhibits, or record keeping. Clay County has often sent representatives or delegations to state conferences in Ames.
During the 1950s and 60s there was an increasing awareness of the world at large in Clay County 4-H. Local contact with international figures was popular as countywide programs featured speakers including a German war bride and a war orphan who was adopted from Austria. In the 1970s, 80s, and 90s opportunities for Clay County 4-Hers grew, and they were not only able to meet people from afar, but were able to travel themselves. Starting in the 1970s Clay County developed a strong tradition of sending a delegation of 4-Hers to the nation’s capitol on the Citizenship Washington Focus trip. Exchanges with other states and other countries have also been popular.
Because of the proximity of the Iowa Great Lakes recreation areas, Clay County 4-Hers had the opportunity to attend boys’ or girls’ district camps held at Lake Okoboji. There, the focus of the camp program was often both on outdoor education and increased self-confidence. In 1955 Clay County mounted a fundraising effort to help pay for a state wide camp in Madrid, and despite some resistance because of the distance to the state camp and the proximity to Okoboji there is a record of 4-Hers attending both the district camp and the state camp in the years that followed.
Clay County 4-H has always played a role in career training for the youth of the county. During the first half of the century when many boys were following their fathers into farming and many girls were caring for families in their mother’s footsteps the agricultural and home economics based program was a valuable way to teach them life skills. Often, new methods developed by Iowa State University were not only taught to 4-Hers, but spread to influence their parents as well. As 4-H started to expand its project areas and the youth of Clay County became less likely to have agriculture or home making as career paths, many former members found themselves using skills on the job they learned in 4-H.
While there is no doubt that each youth involved with Clay County 4-H over the years could share how the program has touched his or her life, limited space allows only a few to be mentioned. Chuck Morris, current director for Iowa State University Extension 4-H Youth Development, served as the 4-H and Youth Leader for Clay and Buena Vista Counties from 1975 to 1978. JaneAnn (Rutter) Stout, current Associate Dean for the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at Iowa State, started her career as a Clay County 4-Her. In 2002 Clay County youth, Scott Roti, was chosen to be one of 15 youth representatives from Iowa to participate in The National Conversation on Youth Development in the 21st Century in Washington D.C.
4-H and Social Education
The 1939 Annual Report states “4-H club work will be of major importance in the future to give vocational training, citizenship training, and training on how to live and enjoy life”. While both groups focused on citizenship, it seems that the boys clubs focused more on vocational training and the girls clubs focused more on cultural and social education. This training was almost exclusively geared to rural children until the 1960s when the 4-H program made a concerted effort to change its image and programming to serve all youth. Girls were encouraged to develop an appreciation for “ the beauty and dignity of rural living”. The Extension staff hoped to bring culture and refinement into the homes, as well as improving health, and providing a social outlet. One example of cultural education efforts was a long running countywide music recognition contest. Throughout the year the girls listened to various classical and folk pieces and then were tested on their recognition of the pieces. This was already an annual event in 1925 and was still being mentioned as an annual event in the late 1950s. Music continued to play an important role as part of local and countywide programs frequently featured a sing along, soloist, or even folk dancing.
Until 1962 a separate boys and girls Rally Day was held every year to give awards and elect county officers. The boys event went by several different names over the years and was not well recorded in the annual records. In contrast, the girls Rally Day was a standard event that often involved an elaborate program with competitions, awards and a pageant presented by the 4-H girls. For many years the girls picked clover and constructed an elaborate clover rope chain, which laid on the floor in the shape of a 4 leaf clover and used in the ceremony to induct an honorary 4-Her. In later years the program seemed to become more formal and decorous and relied less on pageantry and drama. After the 1962 combination of boys and girls events this was especially true. Initially there was some resistance to the new event, but the 1963 event was planned to be shorter and more streamlined, and the staff received many compliments on it.
Another longstanding effort to improve the lives of 4-Hers was the girls health contest. Girls were examined by doctors and rated on various aspects of health. Exams were free until 1938, when a one dollar charge was added. The winning girl from the county advanced to the State Fair Health contest. There was also a boys health contest offered at the state level, but there is no mention of Clay County holding the contest for boys. Existing at the same time as the Health contest were fashion and clothing selection contests, which often included poise in the judgment criteria. By 1951 the health contest was not mentioned, but a “Better Groomed Girl” contest was held. A girls grooming contest in some form was held through the 1970s, where each club would send a girl to compete at the county level. In the 1950s the 4-H objectives in the annual reports often listed items that suggested the staff saw a need for improved poise and grooming for the boys of the county, as well as the girls. However, no major programs or contests to achieve this objective are mentioned as having been completed in these years.
4-H and Citizenship Activities
Initially the extension staff viewed the role of the 4-H program in citizenship as promoting self improvement in youth, on the theory that this would improve the community. This was still the stated position throughout the 1930s, but signs of future change were evident. More mention was made of world events as problems in Europe came into the national conscience and clubs began to take action outside of simple self improvement. In 1937 bird shelters were built and 600 trees were planted by the Lake Township boys along a slough as a conservation effort. The girls clubs also focused on conservation late in the decade to “help girls realize the importance of conserving our natural resources, which are fast disappearing”.
World War II started a new tradition of outreach in the Clay County 4-H program as the youth were involved in selling and purchasing war bonds and collecting items for salvage and donating the proceeds to charities related to the war effort. After the war was over clubs continued making charitable donations as well as reaching out by sending boxes of food and clothing to needy people overseas. The clubs often received letters of thanks from these people, which generated a great deal of interest in the county.
While individual club citizenship projects may have persisted during the 1950s and 60s, they were not mentioned in the annual reports. In the 1970s club historian’s books and secretary/treasurer reports show the club routinely did community service projects. These projects ranged from writing a senator with concerns about the treatment of prisoners of war to bringing handmade decorations to local nursing homes.
Clay County 4-H Clubs have been involved in countless community service projects over the years, some of which stand out. In 1975 a tree planting bee was held on the Clay County Fairgrounds to add beauty and shade to the grounds for the enjoyment of all fairgoers. In 1989 the Clay County Conquistadors 4-H club started the Reins of Hope Therapeutic Horseback Riding Program, which utilized horses and volunteers supplied or required by the club to provide a therapeutic horseback riding experience for person with physical, developmental, and/or emotional disabilities. While no longer officially connected with the club, Reins of Hope is still in operation. In 1992 Clay County 4-Hers installed 1,502 E-911 markers. 270 youth from 20 4-H Clubs and 1 FFA chapter installed the signs with the help of 175 adult volunteers. In 1999 the Willing Hands project was organized. This was a county wide day of volunteerism where 200 youth and adults from area communities joined together to provide community service. “4-H clubs provided one-half of the volunteers for the event that extended to all corners of the county”, according to the 1999 Clay County Stakeholder report. After the tragedies of September 11, 2001 the Clay County Countrymen 4-H club challenged other clubs to donated and $425.00 was donated in January of 2002 to the United Way of New York 911 Fund on behalf of Clay County 4-H.
4-H and Community Support
Farm Bureau played a vital role in 4-H for many years. The Clay County Extension Office was housed in the Farm Bureau building until 1992. Prior to the 1956 separation of Extension and Farm Bureau, much of the 4-H programming was closely tied to that of Farm Bureau. Women’s Township Clubs organized by Farm Bureau frequently helped locate leaders for the local 4-H clubs, as well as supplied general support in programming and organization. This was to the mutual benefit of both organizations as Farm Bureau and Extension could often reach out to adults through their children. Social issues such as better health, hygiene, and nutrition were topics addressed to Farm Bureau clubs, but information on these topics was also carried home by 4-Hers and either reinforced to their parents, or introduced to parents who were not members of the clubs. Since the program topics were linked, 4-H girls frequently provided the educational segment for Township Clubs by presenting demonstrations on a topic that was being pursued by both organizations that year. The two organizations often shared an achievement day, where home economics projects and demonstrations could be judged. The groups also hosted educational events attended by both 4-H girls and their Township Club member mothers including daylong local training schools giving an overview of a project area selected for that year.
The boys’ 4-H clubs also had a symbiotic relationship with Farm Bureau. There are several records of Farm Bureau providing sponsorship for trips awarded to boys regarding their agricultural work. Boys’ 4-H clubs also provided a connection between Farm Bureau and their adult constituency. The first mention of a countywide 4-H tour was in the 1937 annual report, where 135 boys and leaders learned about the care, training, and feeding of livestock. In successive reports, it is apparent that fathers, and sometimes whole families, were attending the annual 4-H tours.
From its inception until today countless local businesses, organizations, and private citizens have provided valuable support for 4-H in Clay County, in terms of money, services, and personal assistance to youth. A focal point of support is the Clay County Fair, where area businesses and individuals give in the range of $25,000 each year to support trophies, awards, and prizes. However, there has been a tradition of year round support, as the people of the county provide time, money, and labor for fun and educational events.
In 1928 stockmen, businessmen, and packers from around the county began bidding on the calves sold at auction at the end of the fair show. The sale of 108 baby beeves generated $17,275. In the years since that tradition has continued and expanded to include live-animal and premium sales for all 4-H market livestock exhibited at the fair. Now the auction typically brings from $150,000 to $225,000 in pack and premium bids.
Clay County 4-H has received incredible support from many different organizations. One that stands out is the Clay County Bankers Association. They are mentioned in the 1916 Report as having provided a $150 cup for a youth club corn trophy. Since then they have provided support to various endeavors including participating in livestock auctions until the early 1980s when they broadened their support to include awards, educational materials and workshops, and trucking costs for the market livestock going to packs.
Area print media and KICD Radio were also early and sustained supporters of 4-H. Many 4-H record books and history books reveal numerous clippings from area papers. Club members submitted reports of monthly meetings and papers sent reporters and photographers to countywide 4-H events. Early 4-H farm tour photos show the KICD car being used to provide a sound system for the event. For a time the Women’s Township Clubs and 4-H Girls’ Clubs shared a time slot for a weekly radio show, and the station continues to provide publicity, public service announcements and general information dissemination for the area 4-H clubs. Many Clay County 4-Hers have had the opportunity to build their communication skills through radio interviews, both at fair time and to promote special events. Two farm broadcasters from KICD won the Area Friend of Extension award and one went on to win the state award.
The Commodity groups of Clay County have also supplied support. The Corn Growers Association, Soybean Growers Association, Cattlemen, Pork Producers, and Sheep Producers have all provided support that not only benefited youth who raised their commodity, but 4-H as a whole.
The history was issued as a booklet in 2005 and is included here at the request of Clay County and with their permission.
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