Iowa 4-H Foundation

Posted on August 26, 2014 at 3:43 PM by Global Reach

Early 1900s

The earliest Extension Council report of 4-H activity in Winneshiek County is from the year 1925. It mentions an ex-member, no longer eligible because of his age, who had been a member the three previous years, which would indicate clubs as early as 1922.  In 1925, 26 boys and 24 girls were “regularly enrolled” in club work.  Clubs at that time were listed by project area.  Winneshiek County had three nutrition clubs with bread as their project, a newly organized farm record club and a pig club. Some members belonged to a four-county dairy calf club.  There was a 4-H dairy judging team and a grain judging team.  In 1925 a four-day camp for boys and an additional camp for girls were held.  The report noted, “The past two weeks the County Agent and his wife have been something like the old woman who lived in a shoe, having so many children, but with the help of the Extension Specialists, usually knew just about what to do.” (Extension Report 1925, pg. 17)

4-H grew rapidly in Winneshiek County, and two years later in 1927, eight girls clubs were listed. One of those girls was Blanche Rosa, who was named Winneshiek County Outstanding Club Member for 1927.  She continued to be involved in 4-H by being an assistant leader during the summer months. In 1931, a letter was read at Rally Day written by her for the 4-H club girls. “This is the first Rally Day I have missed since I first attended in 1924, so I know I shall miss a lovely time. I hope this year each one of you will boost for a bigger and better 4-H organization in Winneshiek County.” An annual Rosa Memorial Award was presented each year until 2003 to an outstanding Winneshiek County 4-H member who exemplified the qualities that Blanche Rosa possessed.

The first countywide meeting for all club members, held in the form of a 4-H Rally and Achievement Day Program, was held in 1928 in the City Park in Decorah.  The 4-H Rally continued as an annual event for several decades.

Around 1930, we saw the organization of Winneshiek County’s own County Dairy Calf Club and a Baby Beef Club. It also marked the first year Winneshiek County 4-H members showed calves at the Dairy Cattle Congress in Waterloo.

Mrs. Elmer Rosa (leader), Viola Peck and Edith Sersland Gipp wearing the first 4-H uniforms around 1933

PHOTO: Mrs. Elmer Rosa (leader), Viola Peck and Edith Sersland Gipp wearing the first 4-H uniforms around 1933.

Influential County 4-H’ers

Myrtle Sersland, a Winneshiek County 4-H’er, was named the Healthiest Girl in the State of Iowa at the State Fair in 1935. She was an active member of the Junior Master Home Makers Club. In 1931, Sersland and Viola Peck gave a demonstration “Do You Know What to Buy” at Achievement Day where they placed second. They represented the county at the Waterloo Dairy Congress where Myrtle was the conference delegate.

Andrew Bakke started 4-H at the age of 9. He was one of the first 4-H’ers in Winneshiek County. He continued in 4-H until the age of 21. During his career in 4-H, he had many projects, which included milking shorthorn cattle, Hampshire pigs, market lambs, colt club, soil conservation and farm records. Along with his projects, he received many awards including a silver ring for outstanding dairy calf club member and received a purebred Hampshire gilt for his outstanding pig club activities.

Bakke was selected as one of four individuals in the United States to attend a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. about a proposed bill for additional funds to provide more leaders for 4-H club activities.  When he went out to Washington, D.C., he began his speech to the Congress by saying, “I come from the State of Iowa, where the tall corn grows,” being proud of the state he lived in.

In 1937, Bakke was named the Champion County 4-H Dairy Calf Club member. In 1941 he became the Vice President of State 4-H Boys’ Clubs in Iowa. It came down to a tie between him and another man. He lost the presidency by the flip of a coin. Andrew, in campaigning for the state office, said, “I have received many honors and awards, but in my estimation, these honors are less important than the personal development I have made.”

Andrew was a 4-H leader for 10 years for the Springfield Choreboys and started a club in Frankville Township called the Frankville Jolly Boys. He was a member of the Fairboard for 24 years and was instrumental in the fundraising efforts for new cattle buildings on the fairgrounds. Bakke was inducted into the Iowa 4-H Hall of Fame at the Iowa State Fair in 2003 in recognition of his contributions to the 4-H program.


Mid 1900’s

In 1947, Farm Bureau began an annual Sports Festival, which included a 4-H boys and girls softball tournament.  In 1952, 4-H took over being in charge of this annual tournament at Luther College in Decorah and was attended by 340 4-H’ers that year.  Records indicate this was a very popular event for many decades.

The Winneshiek County 4-H Club Foundation was incorporated on August 6, 1952 with the Iowa Secretary of State. This foundation is still active today.

The history of Winneshiek County 4-H would not be complete without including the Pine Bluff 4-H Camp.  Pine Bluff is a 115-acre camp in the scenic hills and bluffs northeast of Decorah.  It hosts hundreds of campers each year who enjoy wandering the many trails and enjoying the Upper Iowa River.

Pine Bluff Camp began in 1952 with the acquisition of 42 acres from R.B. Bergeson to be used as a permanent 4-H camp.  In 1968, Anna Rognas donated an additional 40 acres in memory of her husband, Oscar.  An additional 4 acres was purchased in 1967 from Syver Ramstad.  Over the years the camp has been maintained and operated by the Winneshiek County 4-H Foundation Board.  The local Army Reserve Engineering Unit has been instrumental in building cabins, trails and facilities for the 4-H Camp. 

Farm Bureau and Extension divided responsibilities in 1949. After 37 years of Extension sponsorship, the Farm Bureau and Extension separated in 1955.


4-H in the 21st Century

Through the years, 4-H expanded into area schools with school enrichment programs such as BOOMERANG! and the Clover Kids after school programs. BOOMERANG! was offered in Decorah with high school students serving as the teachers to the 7th grade class. This experience taught the youth about being trustworthy, respectful, responsible, fair, caring and being a good citizen. At the end of the year, the class would select a community service project. These ranged from helping at the local food pantry, volunteering at the hospital and assisting with projects at the local nursing homes. With these school enrichment programs we were reaching 4 percent of the youth in the county. 

In 2005 there were 316 4-H’ers enrolled in 16 clubs in Winneshiek County.  There was an active County 4-H Council, Junior County 4-H Council, 4-H & Youth Committee and Pine Bluff Board.  Many countywide events are held each year, including overnight camps, day camps, workshops, fundraisers and social activities.

We had several youth in Winneshiek County serve on the initial planning committee for the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative starting in 2006. In 2009, we imbedded the Food and Fitness work into the 4-H program by enrolling the youth in the 4-H program in 2009. Our Decorah 4-H Food and Fitness Youth Team was one of the initial 4-H youth teams. These teams actively work with their administrators, food service, wellness committees, and teachers to improve their school's food and fitness environment and policies. High school youth also serve as cross age teachers to teach elementary students about healthy food options.

Winneshiek County 4-H formed a 4-H Citizenship Group in September of 2011. This is a two-year project group open to all intermediate and senior age 4-H’ers enrolled in the Citizenship project area. Year one includes local and state level citizenship education, tour of the county courthouse or city hall, and a trip to the Iowa State Capital in Des Moines. Year two involves national citizenship education and a trip to Washington, D.C. with a four-night stay at the National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, MD.

In 2013, Winneshiek County 4-H had 301 4-H members (grades 4-12) and 60 Clover Kid Members (grades K-3) in 16 4-H clubs in Winneshiek County. 4-H clubs in 2013 include Bloomfield 4-H, Burr Oak Blazing Builders, Calmar Creators, Co-Champions, Decorah Chiefs, Decorah Healthy Habits, Decorah Food and Fitness, Glenwood 4-H, Hesper Helpers, Lincoln Leaders, Madison 4-H, North Winneshiek Food and Fitness, Prairie Shooting Stars, South Winneshiek Food and Fitness, Turkey Valley Clovers and Washington Prairie Peppers. There was also an active 4-H County Council, Junior Leadership Council, Citizenship Group, Youth Development Committee, Endowment Board and Club Foundation (Pine Bluff) Board.  Several countywide events held include overnight Area 4-H Camps at Pine Bluff 4-H Camp, day camps, workshops, fundraisers (Omelet Breakfast, Spaghetti Supper/Silent Auction and 4-H Clover Club) and social activities.

Winneshiek County is blessed to have wonderful volunteers and members to continue the success of the 4-H program. Our 4-H youth are becoming productive citizens, outstanding communicators, effective leaders and successful learners through their 4-H experiences.

The words written in the 1925 Extension Report on 4-H still apply today: “The importance of Boys’ and Girls’ Club Work cannot be over emphasized in any community.  The great need of agriculture today is efficient, intelligent leaders and the junior activities have been taken up in Winneshiek County with the idea of developing the boys and girls of today into the leaders for tomorrow.”

The Highland Dairy Calf Club. I.H. Hegseth Farm in Highland Township. (Circa 1930)

 PHOTO: The Highland Dairy Calf Club. I.H. Hegseth Farm in Highland Township. (Circa 1930)

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