Iowa 4-H Foundation

Posted on October 31, 2011 at 2:37 PM by Global Reach

In 1896 the County Institute was formed.  This was the basis for extension in Cerro Gordo County.  The families that were active in the development of the Institute were the ones that sponsored special short courses that eventually developed into the county extension work on September 1, 1916.  The local Institute cooperated with the Retail Merchants Association of Mason City, Cerro Gordo 1920'sleaders of the cooperative elevator movement and purebred livestock breeders to promote the extension organization.

In 1916 the county agent (now the comparative term is County Extension Education Director CEED) Roy F. O’Donnell, was authorized to organize the first 4-H club.  This boys club was organized with six members with baby beef projects who showed at the North Iowa Fair in the fall of 1917.  The boys club was not an organized group in the early period.  In 1923 the first boys club was organized as a community group.  In 1924 the first girls club was started.

The first livestock clubs were organized through breed associations, to help develop better feeders as well as to promote purebred livestock.  The following details the first year with the baby beef club, which was the starting club for Cerro Gordo County:

Cerro Gordo 1928The baby beef club was started in December 1923 with a total of 14 members as follows:  Dan Neil McArthur; Lawrence, Alvin and Edwin Matzen; Gerald and Kenneth Merriss; James Barragy; Loren Ulum; Rex Currier; Frank Smith; Lester Curran; Carl Ashland; and Roscoe and Wilbur Helms.  Thirty-one calves were started on feed in this club--three Angus, nine Shorthorn and 18 Hereford calves.  The average weight of the calves at the beginning was 424 lbs., and they were bought at 9 cents per lb.  The average cost per pound of gain was 9.4 cents.  The average daily gain of the 31 calves was 1.75 pounds.  The average weight at the close of the contest was 900 pounds.  The average selling price was $11.21 per hundred pounds, and the average of the 15 calves sold at Des Moines was $11.71.  The calves were all exhibited at the North Iowa Fair at which time we had the assistance of Art McArthur in helping the boys.  At the North Iowa Fair in the Shorthorn class, Kenneth Merriss won first with his Shorthorn calf; other Shorthorns were placed seventh, eighteenth, nineteenth and thirtieth.  In the Angus class Frank Smith won first and grand champion.  Unfortunately, this calf died of hemorrhagic Septicemia the night following the show.  Loren Ulum’s Angus calf was fifth and Kenneth Merriss eighth.  In the Hereford, which was our large class, we placed second, fourth, fifth, eighth, fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and thirtieth.  In county group, Cerro Gordo won second and third.

Cerro Gordo 1929Fifteen calves were shipped to the State Fair following the North Iowa Fair and of these 15, 11 were placed in the money.  In the Hereford group, the county won third.  The total cash winnings of the calves in the county were $374.00 and $85.00 in other premiums, consisting of a match and free trip to the International Livestock Exposition at Chicago. Three trips, to the International Livestock Show and Club Congress at Chicago, were awarded in 1926 by the railroads to the livestock club members of the county.  Kenneth Merriss of Dougherty won the trip given by the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railroads, after he exhibited the grand champion calf at the North Iowa Fair.  Edwin Matzen, Mason City, was awarded the Chicago, North Western railroad trip because of his outstanding club record.  Albert Juhl, Clear Lake, was awarded the Rock Island trip for his excellent record made in pig club work during the past year.

In later years Extension staff started a Market Litter Club (swine), Purebred Sow and Litter Club, Colt Club and Sheep Club which lead to interests in other things such as:  Club tours (60 boys and girls toured other club members’ projects in 1924).  Livestock judging became an interest area with related topics of Livestock Sanitation, Dairy Calf Club, Cream Scoring (each person brought their own can of cream in an effort to improve the quality of the butter).

The girls clubs were developed from the training in the townships from the Women’s Work Club.  The Women’s Work Club decided to teach advanced clothing as a continuation of lectures to advance the work started previously in Union, Clear Lake, Lake and Dougherty townships.  The Clothing Clubs for girls were created from a committee of Mrs. W.E. Bouck, Mrs. Earl W. Dean, Mrs. R. H. Holt, Mrs. B. B. Merriss and Miss Cle Jenison and Mrs. A. H. Carstens, Burchinal.  They drew up an outline that follows for the girls:

Cerro Gordo 1950'sType of Club:  Clothing


1. To develop a 4 square girl.
2. To teach better home practices.
3. To encourage better health habits.


1. To have at least 50 percent of our club members wearing approved shoes by Oct. 1.
2. To have at least 75 percent of our club members wearing approved underclothing by Oct. 1.
3. Each club to take charge of its township Farm Bureau meeting at some time during the year.
4. Each club to send its best all-round member to the Junior Short Course at Ames in 1925.
5. County wide Rally Day in June.

GoalsCerro Gordo 1930's

1. Each member to complete at least two garments by time of North Iowa Fair in August.
2. Each club to have its own exhibit at Fair.
3. Each club to send its best demonstration team to North Iowa Fair.
4. Cerro Gordo County to be represented at Iowa State Fair by its best demonstration team.
5. Cerro Gordo County to be represented at Iowa State Fair by a clothing exhibit.
6. To have seven strong clubs each with its yearly program.

Duties of Club Committee

1. To write club project
2. To help in finding local leaders
3. To plan county-wide club activities
4. To make out and give annual county club report at Annual Farm Bureau meeting.

Yearly Program

March  Meeting of county club committee to make out 1924 project.  Organization.
April  Completion of organization and a written program in the hands of every member.
May  Subject matter training schools for local leaders.
June  Subject matter training schools for local leaders
July  Subject matter training schools for local leaders
August  North Iowa State Fair tryouts.
September Reports of State Fair by team sent.
October  Achievement Day.  Completion of records and filing in county office.
Nov & Dec. Election of new officers
January Short course
February Re-organization

Cerro Gordo 1940'sTwelve clubs were organized in the county with membership of 200 girls.  Of these 200 girls 164 were in school and 36 out of school.  Ninety-nine girls made complete final reports of the years’ work. Approved shoes were worn by 125 girls, 18 demonstrations were given by teams, and 560 people were reached; 438 garments were constructed.  Special dinners and lunches at township Farm Bureau meetings and box socials were held to raise money to send members to the Junior Short Courses in Ames.

Leigh Curran, former Iowa state senator, once reminisced with James Kuhlman of his early involvement with 4-H.  Leigh had joined the “colt club” in the early twenties.  His brother Lester Curran and sister Grace had joined the “baby beef club”.  Leigh recalled that one time they sent the calves from the North Iowa Fair to Chicago to be sold, and Leigh got to accompany the cattle to Chicago, which was a great experience.  Leigh later became a 4-H leader, as did his wife Dorothy for a girls club.  Leigh did have a coed club as the Galligan sisters (two sisters in the area) were in his club.  This was very unusual at the time.

Cerro Gordo ClubIn looking back, the following clubs were named as clubs in the county in 1955:  Grant Livewires, Willing Hands, Lincoln Peppy Pals, Lime Creek Merry Maids, Falls Happy Go Lucky, Daughters of the Land, Lakes Ambitious Vestae, Mason Thrifty Fixers, Portland Lively Lassies, Mt. Vernon Victory Queens, Bath Belles, Owen Farmerette, Grimes Go-Getters, Cinderella Girls, Geneseo-Cloverettes, Grimes Golden Girls, Grimes Clover Belles, Fertile Livewires, Grant Blue Ribbon Feeders, Lincoln Loyal Lads, Lime Creek & Plymouth Club, Shell Rock Valley, Lakes Ambitious Feeders, Mason Booster Boys, Portland Blue Ribbon Feeders,  Union Happy Hustlers, Mt. Vernon Boys, Rockwell Ramblers, Owen Little Feeders, Grimes Little Cattle Feeders, Thornton Farm Hands, Geneseo Haymakers, Dougherty Fighting Irish.  Of these clubs Grant Livewires, Lincoln Peppy Pals, Lakes Ambitious Feeders, Thornton Farm Hands still retain their names.  Some clubs have combined with others such as the Rockwell Ramblers and the Geneseo Haymakers to offer 4-H to the communities.  Several had their original names changed for political correctness in the l970’s, but some have remained under the same names.

Cerro Gordo Food & NutritionCerro Gordo has a year round 4-H Learning Center that is used by many organizations for meetings and serves as our food stand during the fair.  Cerro Gordo has the only State Roping Event for 4-H that began in 2001 and has a roping arena at our fairgrounds that was funded by grants, community organizations and private individuals.

In the last 10 years we have had several accomplished young people represent Cerro Gordo County both in the state of Iowa and nationally.  Shennen Floy and Arlene Lee had several state project awards between them. Shennen also went to National 4-H Conference and served on State 4-H Council.  Kelly Zieman and Candi Sturges have been to National 4-H Congress; Matthew Josten has been on Iowa Youth Technology team for two years; and Angie Groh was on the Iowa Youth Technology Team and has served on the National Youth Technology Team.

The interest for youth originally in Cerro Gordo County was centered on the animals.  Today the program centers on the development of the youth, and the projects are the means to the end.  Livestock projects are still a highlight for many youth.  We have diversity in projects with horses, dog projects and rabbits being very popular for livestock, and in 2004 our most popular projects overall were photography and visual arts.

Collaborative effort of Wendy Bonner & James Kuhlman
December 2004

Cerro Gordo National 4-H Week

Cerro Gordo Shooting Sports

Visit the Cerro Gordo County 4-H Website.

To make a donation to the Cerro Gordo County Endowment through the Iowa 4-H Foundation, click this button. Then select Cerro Gordo County in the far right column (My 4-H County) and complete the gift information.

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