Iowa 4-H Foundation

Posted on October 27, 2011 at 7:20 AM by Global Reach

Johnson County 4-H has a long history, dating back to the 1918 Smith-Lever Act of the United States Congress that established County Extension Services, with County Farm Bureaus as sponsoring organizations. The first Johnson County Extension Agent was Ed F. Graff, who began work in Johnson County in about 1918. Also, in 1918, the 4-H organization was founded and official clubs were formed in Johnson County in the 1920’s. World War I and the need for food were the catalysts for both County Extension and 4-H. Unfortunately, Johnson County 4-H records before 1929 were destroyed in a fire. 

Johnson County 4-H Awards 1929-30Early 4-H boys clubs were neighborhood based, with emphasis on gardens, beef, swine and dairy. Boys could choose to join the Swine Club, Dairy Club, or other interest club depending on their personal interests and family farm. Early girls clubs were closer-knit organizations focusing on one main project area that rotated yearly. Project areas between 1929 and 1950 included Clothing, Home Furnishings, Bread, Canning, Home Efficiency, Food Preservation, Oven Products, and Nutrition. The original uniform for girls was a blue pleated skirt and middy blouse worn with a black tie.

Leadership and personal growth have always been a foundation of Johnson County 4-H and were emphasized regardless of the club structure. Early clubs that are still active in Johnson County include Golden Rule (1929), Victory (1943) and Cosgrove Hustlers (1944). 

There is clear evidence that participation in Johnson County 4-H was driven by annual Club Shows and Fairs that focused on project work. From 1887 to 1917, the Johnson County Agricultural Mechanical Society organized county fairs that were held on their grounds near the Iowa City city limits. After 31 years, a lack of interest and support forced the Society to disband on March 12, 1918. Early 4-H clubs had achievement shows and livestock exhibits. 

Johnson County 4-H 1926In 1929, the Johnson County Farm Bureau announced plans for a Johnson County Club Show to be held August 14-17, 1929. This was a cooperative effort between Johnson County Farm Bureau, businessmen, and organizations.  There were fifteen classes of clothing exhibits at this show and five clubs with “73 boys and girls enrolled feeding over 200 head of livestock.” Fair organizers worked very hard to assure that the fair was free of charge and open to the public. The 1929 fair’s official program emphasized that the public should come and enjoy the free activities.

There is clear evidence that there was good cooperation between agriculture and business from the beginning. The program for the 1929 fair states, “When … the Farm Bureau announced their plans for a 4-H club fair, the Iowa City Retail Merchants Bureau welcomed the movement as a most progressive step in the formation of an institution to take the place of the Johnson County Fair, which passed out of existence in 1917, 12 years ago. [This is] a constructive far-sighted program bound to benefit agricultural interests of the county … In conclusion, we wish to say we hope the event will become an annual affair.” This is signed by W.L. Davis, Chairman, Irving B. Weber, Fred J. Seeman, and Vern W. Bales.

The 1929 fair was a catalyst for new 4-H clubs and membership. After the 1929 fair, seven additional 4-H clubs formed and interest in Johnson County 4-H increased. The 1930 Club Show was held August 7, 8, and 9. In the 1930 official fair program, Johnson County Farm Bureau President M.F. Sullivan states:

Last year while, 4-H Club Work was practically new in Johnson County, a very successful 4-H Club Show was held. This was due to the fact that the merchants, business and professional men throughout the county accepted the idea as a worthwhile project. They also realized it would be of untold value to the boys and girls in club work and that it was a progressive movement which would of general benefit to the community.
The fact that a show was held last year has greatly increased the interest in club work and this year every township in the county will be represented. The livestock exhibit will be three times as large as last year and I feel that our show will be one of the outstanding 4-H club shows in the State.
No admission will be charged and every resident of the county and neighboring counties should make a special effort to attend the show, see what the boys and girls are doing and encourage them in their club work.
We of the Farm Bureau, appreciate more than I can express in words, the very fine co-operation and assistance which has been extended through the merchants, business and professional men of the entire county and neighboring communities. This kind of co-operation has enabled us to put on what we feel is a very worthwhile 4-H Club Show.
Mrs. Dewey Swanson, the County Girls Club Chairman records that there were 17 demonstrations and enrollment went from “three clubs with thirty girls enrolled to seventeen clubs with a total enrollment of 225.” She also explains that leaders are needed and, “Although Johnson County’s club record during the past year and a half has been one of real achievement, we shall not be satisfied until 4-H club work is within the reach of every farm boy and girl in the county.” 
Lysle Duncan served as County Agricultural Agent March 1, 1929 to December 1, 1935. Emmett Gardner served from April 1, 1935 to December 1, 1950 and was honored with the Distinguished Service Certificate at the National Association of County Agricultural Agents Meeting in Chicago in 1940. H.J. Montgomery served from February 1, 1951 to July 1, 1960 and Montgomery Hall, on the 4-H Fairgrounds is named for him. The county’s first Youth Assistant, Robert Hagen, served December 1, 1930 to December 23, 1934. Joe Caputo served from January 1, 1935 to October 4, 1935. The next Youth Assistant started fourteen years later – Paul Stutsman served from October 1, 1949 to December 31, 1950. County Agents and Youth Assistants were routinely employed after these individuals.
On April 29, 1949, the Johnson County Agricultural Association was incorporated. The Association was created to provide greater opportunities for Johnson County youth and citizens of Johnson County. The goal of the organization was:
To hold fairs and exhibits for display of livestock, goods, wares, merchandise, fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy products, handicraft products, works of art, products of every kind, manufactured articles and machinery of all sorts, kinds and classes manufactured for any and all purposes whatsoever, and especially the display and exhibits of members of Johnson County 4-H Clubs and to do any and all other things that are necessary in conducting and fair for exhibits and displays.
The original Fair Board had fifteen members with H.A. Dunlap, president, Paul McNutt, Vice-president, E.C. Gardner, Secretary, and Frank A. Colony, Treasurer. On April 23, 1949 the Board identified an area near the airport as a suitable site for 4-H Club Show grounds, and a lease was drawn-up June 6, 1950. On August 22, 1950 the Johnson County Agricultural Association suggested a membership campaign of $1.00 per year with a total goal of 800 members.
Because of a lack of finances, Club Shows were held in 1951 at the Iowa City Sales Barn with the girl’s Achievement Show in the Community Building preceding the livestock show. Although there was a lease in effect on the airport grounds, finances did not support holding a fair. Following the 1950 Club Show, the Johnson County Farm Bureau and Iowa City Chamber of Commerce each pledged $1,000 for a fairgrounds project. In April 1952, a committee secured 16.5 acres of ground for $8,500 for permanent fairgrounds. A fundraising campaign followed with $25,692.03 total funds raised. Of that, $13,105 came from county residents and $12,588 came from city residents. The first 4-H Fair was held at the new Fairgrounds in 1952. Membership in Johnson County 4-H increased from a total of 333 in 1952 to 402 in 1953. Tents were used to house livestock exhibits at the Fairgrounds while the girls achievement shows were held in town in the community Building.
As the 4-H Fairgrounds infrastructure grew, so did membership in 4-H, increasing to 791 members in 1959. On August 21, 1952, plans were made for a new livestock barn, “Barn Number 1” that would be 48’ x 150’ and built with volunteer labor. 150 men donated 266 days of labor. Committees were also established for building the Fairgrounds infrastructure. Those included Finance, Building, Fencing, Well & Drain, Road and Electric Line. Also during this year the grounds were fenced, roadways were established, and the entrance was created.
In 1953 plans were made for the girls building, formally named “Montgomery Hall” in 1961. Funds were raised for this building and further infrastructure on the Fairgrounds. In 1954 the basement of the Montgomery Hall, 43’ by 86’, was finished and the first complete fair with 4-H girls exhibits and livestock was held on the Fairgrounds. Demonstrations were given in a tent and the livestock show was held in 1 barn and 2 tents. In 1955 a south entrance was added, 12 tables and 200 chairs purchased, and cement floor and foundation for “Barn Number 2.” 
In 1956, the upper floor of Montgomery Hall was completed, with electricity added the following year. Also in 1957, outside restrooms, a new well, and complete plumbing facilities were completed. “Barn Number 3” was completed in 1959 and “Barn Number 2” was completely enclosed and blacktop driveways added. In 1960 a metal Exhibit Building, 60’ x 140’, was constructed and the grounds were graded and permanent bleachers and an additional barn were constructed.
In 1962, the 10th anniversary year of the Johnson County 4-H fair, H.J. Montgomery commented on the naming of Montgomery Hall, stating, “… such an honor, once in a lifetime, was sincerely appreciated.” He went on to say:
There is much that could be said of the many individuals and organizations that have made possible the present facilities of Johnson County Fair Grounds … The Johnson County Farm Bureau and the Iowa City chamber of commerce have been active supporters of Johnson county Fair activities since its very beginning in 1952 … the business men of Iowa City have added much to the annual fair each year since 1954 … Last but not least have been the 4-H leaders and hundreds of cooperators who have given many, many hours of hard work in furthering 4-H club work in Johnson County. 4-H club work has nearly [doubled] in number of active club members during the last ten years. To all should go the thanks of the entire community for a job well done. Community cooperation means much in any community enterprise and the last ten years has proven what such cooperation can do in making the Johnson county Fair one of the outstanding shows in the state. 
With exemplary infrastructure and a supportive Johnson County Agricultural Association in place, Johnson County 4-H entered a new era in the 1960’s. The objective for 4-H during this time was, “to establish a youth program which provides a more meaningful, educational experience that will help young people of Johnson county develop into mature personalities, responsible family members, and effective citizens.” County officer training sessions were established during this time to make meetings more meaningful. In 1961 there were 23 Home Economics (primarily girls) and 17 Agriculture (mix of boys and girls) clubs with 393 girls and 330 boys enrolled in 4-H. 
During the 1960’s and 1970’s there were a number of youth exchanges organized both national and international. The goal of these exchanges varied, but the primary goals included learning more about agricultural practices and citizenship. In 1962, 37 students participated in an exchange with Jackson County, Mississippi. In 1965 39 4-H members from Montana traveled to Iowa and in 1966 28 Johnson County members (24 girls, 4 boys and 5 adults) traveled to Montana.
In 1965, two new projects were added: Horses, under the leadership of Les Kempf and Junior Leadership. In 1966, a Home Economist position was created to work with 4-H, and their time was split between Johnson and Washington counties. The 1965 project emphasis was on Electricity and there was a goal of better 4-H demonstrations. A notebook called “Fundamentals of Demonstrations” was created to promote better 4-H demonstrations. 900 demonstrations were presented on County Demonstration Days. It should be noted that demonstrations were not mandatory in the 4-H Agriculture Clubs at this time.
In 1967, William Chalmers initiated the 4-H Dog Project in Johnson County and served as the superintendent until the mid 1980s. In 1968, over 100 4-H members participated in 4-H camping programs and in 1969, new outreach initiatives focused on low-income urban neighborhoods. A new urban club was established with 7 female members.
In 1970 there was a shift in the traditional 4-H demonstrations to an Educational Presentation concept. To facilitate this, 55 members attended a workshop entitled, “What is a Presentation and how is it different form a Demonstration?” There was also a strong recommendation that the agricultural clubs initiate a mandatory presentation requirement for its members. 
Also in 1970, the Johnson County Fair had the distinction of being the only computerized fair in Iowa. Iowa City resident Dan Collins created the program. The cost was $90 for punching cards and $32.85 for computer runs. The February 15, 1970 Des Moines Register stated, “Johnson County had the only computerized fair in Iowa last year, and it may retain that distinction another year or two unless other fair boards change their present thinking. Fremont Isaacs, secretary of the Johnson County Fair rates the computer program ‘more than successful’ and said that it saved approximately 300 secretarial hours in tabulating the names of the exhibitors, their placings and their premiums.” 
The 1970’s were a time of outreach and growth for Johnson County 4-H. With special urban 4-H and 4-H community development funds, the program expanded to reach youth living in all parts of the county. The Johnson County Day Camp started in 1972 at Camp Cardinal in Coralville with 180-day campers. In the late 1970’s, the Day Camp moved to the Johnson County 4-H Fairgrounds and served hundreds of “urban” youth. The campers, who were kindergarten through second graders, were picked up at their nearest elementary school and returned to the same location at the end of the day; each week had a different theme. The camp continued through the mid 1980’s. 
In 1974 there were 412 female and 274 male 4-H members. Total youth served through outreach programs totaled 1,321 females and 1,063 males. In 1975, Jean Hood started as 4-H Economist. Janet Martin started working as 4-H Youth Development Coordinator in 1976 and there was a groundbreaking for the new County Extension Office on the 4-H Fairgrounds. The building was completed in time for the 1977 Fair at a total cost of $36,662. In 1977 there was a goal setting workshop to develop good goal setting skills and members from 36 clubs participated. 1979 brought a new entertainment tent to the Fair, just outside of the food stands, and Marilou Gay started the 4-H Vegetable Garden Workshop. 
The 4-H on Wheels program began in the late 1970’s through special urban, EFNEP (Expanded Food and Nutrition Program) and community development funds. The program staff traveled to the rural communities, mobile home communities, and urban apartment buildings and parks in the county. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the summer program name switched to Johnson County GAP (Group Activity Program) and was a joint project of 4-H and Big Brothers/Big Sisters. GAP has been conducted every summer since the late 1970’s; the program provides educational experiences for 7-12 year old youth in Johnson County communities and urban Iowa City and Coralville locations. For many years, the GAP staff has worked with other youth organizations to conduct “hand on” science, art, nutrition and recreational opportunities.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County, a 4-H youth development program, began as the Iowa City PALS program; it was created from an Urban 4-H “big sisters” program and the Optimist “Uncles” program. PALS was a 4-H and youth program that received in-kind support from Johnson County Extension since its beginning. In January 1976, the Iowa City Council approved a $7,000 allocation and a part-time director was hired. 
4-H outreach continued into the 1980’s. In 1980, the first 4-H Club for youths with physical or mental disabilities was established in Johnson County. 13 members participated and the program was a cooperative effort with Systems Unlimited. 
In 1986, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County received full affiliation from Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and the program name was changed. One-to-one matches between youth from single parent families and adult volunteers was the core of the program. These community matches are still a vital part of Big Brothers Big Sisters, but school based mentoring is also an important component. Bowl for Kids Sake is an annual fundraiser for the program.
Traditional 4-H clubs also continued in the 1980’s with an emphasis on recruiting new members and 4-H Leader training. Members were recruited through new school visits early in the decade, 4-H Findout Meetings later in the decade, and a New Member Night was initiated to help new members learn about all the possibilities 4-H membership offered. In 1984, 200 individuals attended New Member Night activities and in 1985, there was a 7% increase in new members over the previous year. All 4-H Clubs were represented at a six-session leader training program in 1984, and club project leaders increased from 10 in 1983 to 25 in 1984.
IJohnson County 4-H'ers service projectn 1982, 47% of Johnson County 4-H members lived on farms, 30% lived in the country but not on farms, and 23% lived in cities. This contrasts with national 4-H membership of 17% of youths living on farms, 44% living in the country but not on farms, and 39 % living in cities. 
In 1986, Jan Temple was named Home Economist and her position was dedicated solely to Johnson County instead of sharing with an adjacent county. Also that year, Fremont Isaacs celebrated his 30-year anniversary as Fair Manager. During the mid-1980’s, 4-H club names were reviewed for political correctness. Clubs with “sexist” names were urged to change their names, for example, the Sharonettes club was renamed Sharon Center Sensations in 1985.
The 1990’s started with 33 4-H clubs with 194 male members and 338 female members with total enrollment of 532. In 1990, Steve and Sue Wolken were honored with the State 4-H Alumni Award. They started the city club, Hawkeye Helpers, in the late 1970’s to make 4-H more accessible to urban youth.
In the early 2000’s, the 4-H and youth program expanded to reach youth through school enrichment programs, including nutrition education. In 2003, an after school program coordinator was employed to work with after school programs in schools and communities. The 4-H and youth development program has expanded to meet the needs of youth in Johnson County through taking programs to youth where they live, recruiting and supporting volunteers in all programs, and receiving financial and community support from businesses and organizations.


Johnson County 4-H has experienced numerous changes over the years. What has not changed is the 4-H commitment to youth and helping youth address the issues of the time. Early 4-H clubs address the agricultural need for food production and home economics immediately following World War I. Modern clubs teach healthy living, effective planning, volunteerism and community service. The ongoing goal of providing meaningful educational experiences, leadership, personal growth, and helping youth develop into effective citizens remains and thousands of youth have benefited from their Johnson County 4-H experience. Many of today’s community leaders were 4-H members and many Johnson County families have multiple generations of 4-H members. The 4-H fair remains free of charge and both the Fair Board and Johnson County Extension remain committed to youth development and 4-H youth programs.
Johnson County 4-H'ers      Johnson County Extension Office
Compiled by Kara Logsden
with assistance from Leigh Ann Jero, Johnson County Historical Society, Janet Martin, Dianna Mishler, and Gene Mohling.


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