Iowa 4-H Foundation

Posted on April 19, 2012 at 4:08 PM by Global Reach

Early Years

 In the summer of 1907, Mr. A.C. Minear arranged for an educational camp for boys in the Stockport area of Van Buren County.  The camp included livestock judging, livestock management, and corn production lines. Mr. Minear then arranged to hold a boys camp again during the summer of 1908.  The camp was well received with 46 boys signing up.

Professor Drennan of the Extension Service, who was involved in teaching at the camp in 1908, reported; "At Kilbourn they had boys come in and stay for a week.  Tents were furnished, board, bedding, etc."

The boys who came were young, willing to learn and spent a portion of each day going over the cornfields and judging livestock in some of the local herds.  The remainder of the day was always spent in some form of entertainment. These camps helped pave the way for the formation of a Cooperative Extension Program called 4-H.
In 1918 Van Buren County Farm Bureau was started in accordance with a farm aid association law for the purpose of sponsoring a Cooperative Extension Program with Iowa State College.  Mr. A. J. Secor served as the first county director.  Upon creating the Cooperative Extension Program, 4-H also was born in the county.  Enrollment in the program was not recorded in the early years; however, the first available annual report dated 1926 reports 117 girls and 71 boys as the enrollment numbers.

A.J. Secor also acted as a county agent for the 4-H program, helping the members to create, edit and publish a 4-H newspaper called the "4-H Climber."  4-H members also held an annual "Rally" during the month of June to make decisions for the coming year and also prepare for the fair. In later years, during this Rally members also elected their youth board, later known as County Youth Council.
       In the early years, clubs on record were Baby Beef Club, Sheep Club, Draft Colt Club, Dairy Calf Club, Poultry Club and the Swine Club.  There also were community clubs based in Douds/Leando, Selma, Bonaparte, Keosauqua, Milton and Birmingham.  The Van Buren County Fair was an opportunity for members to showcase their hard work with their animals. Additionally, members began to have a pageant during one evening of the fair in competition with one another.  The early years of the 4-H program were off to a good start with members eager to learn and leaders helping to facilitate that learning.


 A.J. Secor continued to lead Van Buren County Cooperative Extension as well as serve as the 4-H agent through the thirties.  His vision for the youth continued to grow the program bringing about educational experiences for both boys and girls of the county.  Membership continued to grow for both the boys and the girls. The year of 1933 brought about the first advancement for the girls of the program.  The girls met in their own 4-H Rally.  Eight different townships were represented in the 141 members in attendance. Eleven members were elected to be sent to the Iowa State College for State Club Convention. This convention was not only viewed as a wonderful opportunity for the girls of the county to experience, but the first step in helping to offer an educational experience to the girls.

In 1934, A.J. Secor hired an agent to concentrate solely on the 4-H program.  This agent was shared half time with neighboring Davis County from March to June, but became full time with Van Buren County from June on.  Even when the Great Depression was affecting the country, the 4-H program continued to grow within Van Buren County.  In 1936, two members of the program, Craig Morrison and Kenneth Austin, conducted dairy demonstrations at the Iowa State Fair. They were selected for an all expense paid trip to the Dairy Cattle Congress where they took second place honors.  With this honor, they received a trip to the National Dairy Show in Dallas Texas. By 1937, a Harvest Dinner was established to present state and locally sponsored awards to eligible 4-H members.  This "Harvest Dinner" is still in effect today, but known as the annual "Awards Night." The event is still held in the fall with a number of state and local awards still being presented.

A. J. Secor continued to lead the Cooperative Extension until 1941 at which time he retired.  Mr. Secor was still very involved with the 4-H program after his retirement serving on the Van Buren County Fair Board and continuing to advocate for the youth.
Due to escalating war in Europe, membership in the 4-H program started to show signs of the times. Membership went down to 78 boys and 74 girls for the 1941 year.  Before Mr. Secor's retirement, he had sent out a letter regarding national defense and the collection of aluminum. In this letter to Van Buren County families, Mr. Secor wrote "If there is a 4-H member in your house, they are especially requested to assist in the collection to do something for the government that has been helping you." Approximately 100 boys and girls enrolled from year to year through the war years.  However, the election of boys' officers was discontinued from 1942 to 1946.  In 1946, no county officers, boys' or girls' were elected.

The Van Buren County Fair continued through the war years and members continued to excel.  Wendell Nicklin as shown in the photo, excelled in the dairy program by showing the grand champion group of Jersey calves in the Iowa State Fair, showing at the Dairy Cattle taking first in the showmanship class at the Iowa State Fair. Members continued to participate in the Van Buren County Fair by showing their animals through the war years as well.

The year 1942 brought a new director for the Extension and unfortunately records were very sparse through the war years.  There are writings of a Jefferson-Van Buren County Fair combination through the war years with no mention of why, when it started and when it ended.

During the war years, the program began to focus on the girls as well as the boys. Home Economics clubs were formed in addition to the already existent Farm Project Clubs.

In 1945, the membership reached a low of 39 girls and 32 boys and also another county director.  The 4-H Agent was also lost during the war year with no replacement. However, the forties also marked the beginnings of three organizational clubs still in existence today. A club named Jolly Trio formed in 1945 in the Bonaparte-Stockport area.  Jolly Trio is still running strong today in Van Buren County with one of the largest memberships. Also in 1945, a boy's club named Horseshoe Bend formed in the Keosauqua area. Horseshoe Bend is also still going strong and in the process of rebuilding its membership.

 In 1948, a club named Friendly Four Corners formed in the Douds-Lebanon area. Friendly Four Corners had a rough start with a couple years of no membership, but has rebounded to also have one of the largest memberships in the modern era for Van Buren County.

After the war years, the membership steadily began to grow again reaching a membership of 110 boys and 160 girls to begin the fifties. There were additional changes in leadership with the County Director position. The membership continued to rise and by 1955 there were six Farm Project clubs and eleven Home Economics clubs.  Additional educational opportunities were introduced with such things as tractor maintenance schools conducted by area implement dealers. Livestock judging training was also introduced leading to a team participating in a state event, which was the first time in several years.

Recreation was also on the rise with the membership.  An All Star Boys Softball team was formed.  This team played other county All Star teams.  In 1955 Van Buren's All Star team lost a very close double header with Monroe County.  The teams were divided between junior and senior level teams with both contributing to who won the tournament. It is unclear the particulars around the beginnings and rules of the games, but one thing was clear. The boys were able to enjoy competitive recreation while getting to know 4-H members from surrounding communities.

The fifties also marked another accomplishment for the Van Buren County 4-H membership.  In 1957, five members of the program had the highest rating at the State Record Book Competition. The membership continued to grow at the end of the decade with the formation of ten boy's clubs and thirteen girls clubs as they were then known.  Membership reached over 400 with 185 boys and 240 girls. The girls once again held their own separate 4-H Rally due to the sheer numbers. The Cooperative Extension once again saw another director.

The sixties were a turbulent time in the world as well as at the local level.  Melvin Powers then took the reigns as the Cooperative Extension Director and faced several challenges during his tenure. In
1961 and 1962 several community-based schools reorganized to form one district of Van Buren Community Schools in the northern section of the county and Harmony Schools in the southern section. The 4-H program also reorganized to move away from the farm and home economic educations for the members.  The organization started to focus more on personal development, good citizenship, self reliance and self responsibility.

One of the first annual reports from Mr. Powers noted the declining membership in the program, but also attributed the declining membership to the declining population in the county. In 1963 the organization then began a recreational event for county wide membership in a volleyball tournament.  There was a boy's tournament and a girl's tournament which continued into the eighties.
The year of 1964 was a year of change and sadness for the Van Buren County 4-H membership.  The practice of separate county officers for boys and girls was eliminated to form one County Youth Council to represent all members, boys and girls.  Candidates presented speeches and eight council members were elected from the membership.  Those eight candidates then selected the top officers within the group.

Bill Woodruff was the first county president to serve over the entire county organization. During these changing times, the membership also had to deal with the death of one of their own in a tragic accident in 1964. Mary McGrath, who served as the County Youth Council Secretary, was killed in an automobile accident in Lacey State Park in Keosauqua.  In her memory, the membership conducted fund raisers to purchase a lectern to be used in the community building.  This lectern is still in use today during the various community events as well as 4-H events such as Van Buren County Fair, 4-H Awards night and Communication events. The fund raising events were so successful, the membership also had funds to purchase two lighted 4-H signs for use of the program as seen here behind the 1970 youth Council. The program continued to evolve but also continued to lose membership.

Mr. Powers noted in the 1969 Annual report of how the community population had declining rate of 1.8% in 1966 but that had increased greatly to 3% at the end of 1968. He accredited the decline to the difficulty of locating quality work in the county causing youth to move elsewhere to raise families.
A 4-H aide was once again hired in 1969 to focus solely on the 4-H program, education of the youth and to address the declining membership.

The beginning of this era marked another loss for the Van Buren County program. Lifelong supporter of the extension and county 4-H program, A.J. Secor passed away in March of 1970. Following his death, an endowment fund was established and annual scholarships are presented to eligible Van Buren County 4-H members. Mr. Secor's daughter, Doris, is still a supporter of the program and personally presents the A.J. Secor Memorial to selected 4-H members at the annual 4-H Awards Night in the fall.
Narratives regarding the condition, activities and membership information declined in the early seventies with no annual reports.
The state 4-H organization organized a 4-H State Youth Council in 1972 in an effort to increase communications state-wide.  Van Buren County was honored when Ed Dickinson was chosen as a member for this council in 1975.

Membership fluctuated throughout the seventies and into the eighties ranging from membership of 300 strong to 150 at it's lowest. Extension also saw change with the hiring of new director, Dale Miller in 1977 and then again with the hiring of Sandra McLain in 1986.

The nineties was a time of celebration, recognition and awards for the Van Buren County 4-H program.  Three clubs were honored in 1996 as part of the Iowa's Sesquicentennial Year Celebration. The Fox Valley 4-H Club, Jolly Trio and the Birmingham Busy Bees had been active more than 50 years and received a recognition certificate at the Iowa State Fair.

Van Buren County Horse Quiz Bowl team also brought honor to the county by taking 1st place honors at the Iowa 4-H Horse Jamboree competition. With this honor came the advancement to the National Finals during the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Colorado in January 1997. Van Buren County made a repeat appearance at the National Western Stock Show in Denver Colorado in 1998. Amanda Coffman and Cassie Wenke represented Van Buren County and the Iowa 4-H program with Amanda competing in the Horse Classic Individual Demonstration and Cassie Wenke in the Roundup Division.

Van Buren County 4-H members received another honor with the nomination to receive the Iowa Governor's Award for Volunteerism. Ms. Zina Hardin, coordinator for the Van Buren County Christmas for Kids nominated the Van Buren County 4-H Council in Des Moines on May 9, 1997. Membership in the program continued to decline in part due to the declining population in Van Buren County. Complete records of membership numbers and club numbers were unavailable.

The New Millennium
As the world let out a huge sigh of relief with the ringing in of the new millennium, the Van Buren County 4-H made their mark at the state and national levels. Members represented the county well not only once, but with repeat endeavors.

Van Buren County made their mark at the National Western Stock Show during the new millennium with multiple appearances representing Iowa.

Team Ropers, Brandon Schrader and Sam Miller, participated in 2001.
Van Buren County Horse Quiz Bowl team represented Iowa again at the National Western Stock Show in Denver Colorado in January 2002 by taking first place honors at the State Horse Quiz Bowl contest in 2001.

Van Buren County also made their mark on the Iowa State 4-H Council.  In 2002, Jacqueline Wenke was selected to serve on the State 4-H Council.  During her term on the State 4-H Council, Jacqueline also was honored with a visit from United States President George W. Bush at the Iowa State Fair.  Her brothers, Thaddeus Wenke and Zachary Wenke were also named to the State 4-H Council in 2004 and 2005 respectively. But the biggest impact Van Buren County made was in the area of Livestock Judging and Livestock Quiz Bowl.     

Over the course of a few years, the Van Buren County Livestock Quiz Bowl team took top honors in the state. The 2002 Van Buren County Livestock Quiz Bowl team took 1st place honors at the Iowa State Fair in August earning advancement to regional finals in September. The 2003 Livestock Quiz Bowl team took 2nd place honors at the Iowa State Fair in August also advancing to regional finals in September of 2003. The 2004 Livestock Quiz Bowl Team placed 1st in the Iowa State Fair competition advancing to the AK-SAR-BEN Regional Finals in August. The 2005 Livestock Quiz Bowl Team placed 1st in the Iowa State Fair competition advancing to the AK-SAR-BEN Regional finals in August of that year. During this time, one thing was consistent with the team and that was the coach, Ron Fransen.

The new millennium also brought more new concepts to the 4-H program across the state.  The new concept of Clover Kids was introduced. These youth in grades Kindergarten through 3rd grade are open to participate in youth activities and exhibit at the county fairs.  The concept of special interest clubs was also introduced.  Van Buren County took part in this concept with the formation of the Van Buren County Sharp Shooters, shooting sports club.

Second Decade of the New Millennium Brings Change
As with any organization, the 4-H program continues to evolve.  The year 2009 saw big changes for the Van Buren County organization with the retirement of long time County Director Sandra McLain and the reorganization of the Iowa State University Extension Service.Counties were formed into regions with Regional Directors and 4-H Youth Program Specialists guiding County Youth Coordinators and Office Assistants. Van Buren County hired a County Youth Coordinator in January 2010.

Membership had dropped to an all time low of less than 100 members, boys and girls. A membership drive commenced along with the introduction of fund raiser activities, recreational activities and awards programs. Additional activities have been introduced for our Clover Kids as well as the 4th -12th grade members. An introduction of a Clover Kid day has developed over the last two years of the program. The 4-H Volleyball tournament has been brought back along with skating parties, bowling parties and a Halloween Carnival in the fall. Members enjoy a fall open house/picnic to kick off the new 4-H year and a spring feast to unveil the fair book and any new activities for the fair. The formation of another special interest club was also formed with the Wildlife Adventurers Outdoor Club. The club has been enjoying activities such as canoeing, fishing, hiking, wildlife tracking and tree identification.

In 2011, the Van Buren County 4-H celebrated National 4-H Week for the first time in many years.  Assemblies were conducted in both local school districts, a float was placed in the local Forest Craft Festival and activities were conducted in the Extension Office yard during the festival. Van Buren County currently has 9 community clubs, 1 Clover Kid Club and 2 special interest clubs. Van Buren currently has 36 screened volunteers helping from leading organizational clubs to instructors for the shooting sports to helping with workshops. The Van Buren County Youth Council has doubled in size to 18 members representing 90% of the clubs. Van Buren County 4-H youth are now approximately 165 strong from kindergarten through 12th grade and gaining members every day.

Submitted by Kaye Gilbert, Van Buren County Youth Coordinator


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