Posted on April 16, 2012 at 3:48 PM by Global Reach
For most of us, a trip to Washington, D.C. the see our nation’s capital is something pretty special. This is particularly true if the trip is your very first exposure to this historic setting, the impressive national monuments, the halls of Congress and our government, The White House, the national military cemetery, and other points of interest around the great city. The opportunity to make such a trip is something that has been available to 4-H Club members for nearly 90 years.
Being selected as a National 4-H delegate to attend the week-long National meeting held in a college-like dormitory, located in the fashionable suburb of Chevy Chase, MD located outside of Washington, D.C. easily represents the climax to a 4-H career. Delegates are selected by a committee consisting usually of Iowa 4-H officials, agribusiness sponsors and others familiar with 4-H. An interview is conducted with the delegate candidates and then are scored by 4-H state officials and others familiar with the youth organization.
In 1927, a compiled document, Yearbook of Agriculture, contained a lengthy report of what was called then, “The National 4-H Club Camp”. 142 4-H’ers from 38 states attended the first national camp/meeting. The Yearbook explained the three objectives for program – providing for the development of leadership, recreation, and citizenship. The goals of the event were to bring together the most outstanding club members, and give them an opportunity to exchange ideas that they might share in their communities.
This National 4-H event started out initially as a real-life 4-H camping experience. The delegates spent the week living in U.S. Army tents on the Washington Mall near the Washington Monument.
Each delegate at that first national 4-H Conference in Washington, D.C. was given a special gavel from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, W. M. Jardine. The head of the gavel was made from wood taken from The White House during remodeling. The gavel handles were also special, fashioned from a hickory log harvested from Mount Vernon.
The 4-H delegates toured Washington, including a visit to the USDA Research Farm facility located near Beltsville, MD. A summary report of that first 4-H national meeting was made by George E. Farrell. His observations included the following: “The contacts in Washington sent the young people home with a feeling that the Government was their Government, administered by men and women with a sympathetic feeling of the conditions and problems of farm life.”
From that humble Army tent beginning in 1927, the National 4-H conference has grown in stature, and represents one of the loftiest honors that can be achieved by a 4-H member. In more recent times adult professional 4-H leaders and 4-H volunteers, have been selected to share in the national conference mission.
Just as it is today, the trips for the young Iowans are sponsored by The Des Moines Register, which started back in 1927. This long-time sponsorship is reported to be the “longest continuous sponsorship” by a firm in the history of the Iowa 4-H. 1927 was the first year Iowa had the opportunity to send delegates to the National 4-H Conference. These delegates were; Alberta Hoppe of Cedar Rapids, Esther Siefman of Laurel, Wilbur Plager of Grundy Center and 4-H leader Josephine Arnquist.
Iowans played a key role in the fact that adults now take active participation in the national conference. After some review, the decision was made to invite 4-H professionals, 4-H leaders, Iowa State University staff members and other adults to participate in the conference. The objective was to make the conference more rewarding to those attending and in general to try to broaden the conference mission.
The Des Moines Register also hosts a special send-off party for the delegates. For many years the delegate send-off party was held in the airport facility in the Cloud Room. Then in more recent years, the going away reception and meal has been served in a private dining room in the newspaper’s new printing plant located near the Des Moines International Airport. For many years, The Register has invited special guests to the 4-H send-off party. These special guests have included state and local 4-H officials as well as parents, newspaper editors and executives along with state political figures including the Iowa Governor and the state Secretary of Agriculture.
One Iowa Governor, Robert D. Ray, had never missed taking part in any of the 4-H delegate farewell receptions hosted by The Register during his 14 years as the state’s chief executive. Where other Governors participated much of the time, Governor Ray was available every year and seemed to put a high priority on being there to salute the young Iowans who would represent their state at the national meeting.
Bob Ray asked at one of the 4-H send-off sessions what became of the previous delegates he had helped honor. This inquiry by the Governor resulted in a special report prepared by the Iowa 4-H staff. This report provided detailed information as to what had become of former 4-H delegates during the years Bob Ray was Governor. In general this report was pretty impressive and reflected favorably on the former national delegates and their careers.
The 4-H Conference delegate send-off also was one of the newspaper’s favorite events as far as long-time Register farm editor J.S. Russell was concerned. Mr. Russell was on the newspaper staff when the decision was made to sponsor the trip for the young Iowans who would represent the state at the first National 4-H Conference in 1927. After his death in an auto accident in August, 1960, a special 4-H memorial trophy in his honor was established by the Iowa State Fair Board. The Russell Memorial award was a traveling trophy presented to the exhibitor of the grand champion 4-H market beef animal for about 30 years.
For years The Des Moines Register/Iowa 4-H relationship continued almost somewhat routinely. This continuity brought with it another significant factor – what one might call “the generation gap”. That’s because there began to emerge situations where new delegates were offspring of former 4-H trip winners. In some cases they represented the second generation from the same family to partake in the once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Tradition of Excellence
There were several second generation delegates from the same family, such as Edith Blood Zobrist of Runnells and her daughter, Suzanne Zobrist Kelly who was a delegate in 1963, and Shirley Johnson Stakey of Elkhorn in 1953 and her daughter Lori Stakey of Stratford in 1980, or Robert Christensen of Clarinda, and his daughter, Donna Christensen-Mores, who were 4-H delegates in 1953 and 1976.
There also have been brothers who became national delegates, such as the Tobins of New Market. Jim Tobin was a delegate in 1975, while a sibling, Bernie Tobin was selected in 1980. There have also been sibling that have attended, including been brother and sister – Doug Larsen (1981) and Wendy Larsen (1984). Their mother, Karen Larsen, was an adult delegate as well.
Along with the other delegate pairs, there are delegates that have event married. This group includes long-time Iowa 4-H professional Chuck Morris of Waukee, a 1970 delegate, who married Mary Kaven of Avoca, a 1971 delegate.
This longstanding tradition also includes grandchildren of former delegates. An example is Arnold Fahrenkrog of Walcott who was a delegate in 1931. His granddaughter Kristi Storjohan of Davenport earned the trip 52 years later in 1983.
While the generation aspect was encouraging to those of us closely involved in this program, uncertainty of its future suddenly developed. It was an unsuspected, disturbing development. For a short time there emerged serious questions if the 4-H/newspaper partnership should continue. This threat developed after new newspaper executives took over at The
Register. One of their first questions pertained to expenditures and “whether we should be looking for new programs and activities. It took what might be best described as a private “conference” between Register Publisher Charles Edwards and the newspaper’s farm editor, before it was announced that the long time Register-4-H connection would survive.
The 4-H Conference duties were then handled by Mr. Russell’s successor, Farm Editor, Don Muhm, a former 4-H member from Hancock County. Muhm always asked each 4-H Conference delegate/candidate the same two questions in the personal interview session where the delegates were chosen. First he would ask if the candidate had been to the nation’s capitol before. Then he would ask if this trip represented their first commercial air flight. In many cases, the 4-H trip was the first exposure to both, which indeed made the 4-H trip even more special.
The program has continued to function after Don Muhm retired in 1993 (after 33 years on the job), and Jerry Perkins became the newspaper’s new farm editor. As always the case, Jerry Perkins inherited all of the 4-H Conference responsibilities. Under Perkins, the yearly participation at the send-off party has continued to include Iowa state officials as well as top-executives from the newspaper, including Editor, Paul Anger, and the Publisher, Mary Stier. The fact that Register top newspaper management executives are directly involved indicates that currently the 4-H conference program appears to be in good hands -- just like has been most of the time since it began so many years and generations ago.