Iowa 4-H Foundation

Posted on April 24, 2017 at 11:59 AM by Emily Saveraid

4-H in Mills County had its beginning following a trip to the Iowa State Fair in 1920 by Mrs. Will Bradley.  She returned from the fair enthusiastic about the work of the 4-H clubs she saw there and joined with Ray Hilton and the county agent Fred Farquar in forming 4-H clubs in Mills county.  One of the first clubs combined members from White Cloud and Deer Creek townships in 1922, with a main emphasis on poultry.  Lillian and Lou Bradley were the winning State Poultry Judging Team at the Iowa State Fair in 1932.  Another early club was the Baby Beef Club.  Girls had separate clubs with a rotation of cooking and sewing with home furnishings added in later years, so that each year the members focused on one type of projects.  If the girls wanted to show livestock or poultry, they had to join the boys’ clubs as well.  By 1943, it was suggested that number of 4-H clubs increase to at least one per township.

On June 17, 1923, the first Mills County Rally Day was held at the Glenwood Lake Park.  Otha Wearin spoke at the Rally Day, and the first county president, Geneva Hunt (DuVal) was elected to office.  Clara Stevens, an early 4-Her, recalled, “I remember for each Rally Day each club was appointed a specific job and in those days the Clover Ceremony was very special.  Club members worked feverishly in the clover field picking just the right blossoms and tying the stems to a long rope which was then used in the Community Building gymnasium floor to create a giant four-leaf clover through which inductees into the alumni award were honored and newly elected 4-H officers took their place.

Before the fair each year, members took their projects to a club Achievement Day to be judged and accepted for the county fair.  Before freezers came along, a baked item might turn out well for the Achievement Day and then be disappointing for the county fair.  Early county fairs were held in Glenwood and then later Malvern became the site of the Mills County Fair.  The dairy at the edge of Malvern would let their cows graze on the tall grass at the fairgrounds as a method of “cropping the grass”.  The Mills County Fair Association failed in 1926, disbanded and lost the fairgrounds.  In1927 it operated under a temporary agreement.  The county Extension agent met with the county supervisors to assure ½ mill levy by the county for five years to pay for the property of the county.  A new association was organized and plans for the fair continued.

In 1937 a county 4-H band was formed under the direction of Warren Darrah of Tabor.  About 25 boys and girls attended rehearsals once a week during the summer.  The band continued until World War II and played at the Iowa State Fair.  Music appreciation and art appreciation were also taught as part of club activities.

World War II impacted Mills County 4-H by reducing the number of boys available to attend meetings due to increased duties at home.  Food and nutrition years emphasized gardening and canning s a thrift measure.  Clothing projects included refashioning clothing and other forms of early recycling.  4-H’ers participated in health competitions.  They were evaluated by doctors, right down to checking a 4-H’er’s teeth.  Citizenship and democracy were added to the studies in the 4-H clubs during the war.  Over the years may Mills County 4-H’ers have traveled to Washington, D.C. to study government and citizenship in action.  The 4-H uniform in the 1940’s was a blue sailor uniform that many of the girls made as clothing projects.

LaVerne Obrecht served forty years with the Mills County Extension office and recalled overnight camping in the Loess Hills and the Teen Club “served as a county melting pot to bring

4-H’ers together from all parts of the county”.  Mils County 4-H’ers participated in state 4-H camps and the state 4-H leadership conference as well as the State 4-H Council that was formed in 1971. 

Lillian Bradley Johnson summed up what many Mills County 4-Hers have found, “Psychologists say that a family that has a central interest is a family that will endure”.  Often the Mills County members have whole families taking part in 4-H with the parents as leaders and brothers and sisters working together to complete projects and pass on the tradition of “making the best better”. 

Today there are too many projects to list:  a 4-H’er is limited only by their imagination.  Achievement Day has gone by the wayside and conference judging is used to provide immediate feedback to the exhibitor.  4-H still provides a sense of tradition carried on by many families and opportunities for leadership training at the club, county, state and national levels.  In 2006 a record number of 30 seniors participated in the area recognition interviews at Atlantic, Iowa, for a chance to serve on the area and state council as well as going forward to state for project awards. 

In some ways it is more of a challenge to interest today’s youth in 4-H.  Nancy Terry Downing explained, “I feel that today’s 4-Hers have so many conflicting activities that they don’t have the time to live, eat, talk, breathe and think of 4-H in quite the depth that we did.  However, 4-H will always have a special place in my heart and those persons who provide the leadership and guidance to our precious youth are to be commended for the time and efforts they put forth.”  For those who participated in 4-H, the rewards are many and long-lasting.

William H. Harbor, a Mills County 4-Her in the 1930’s summarized those rewards, “Thing learned in 4-H filled our hearts and memory which have been my teacher of what the future held for us.  Some things called for action that helped me in my 4 years at the University of Iowa  I found out how to use time, how to work with people.  It provided learned goals at Iowa and for sure as my being a Lt. Junior Grade in the U.S. Navy.  I could see other men in the Navy using the things 4-H taught us.  Thanks to 4-H, things we learned showed us how to act, to be a friend and other lessons used for other purposes.  I feel proud for having been a 4-H person.”

  • The Mills County 4-H Band marched and played at the National Corn Husking Contest, the National Plowing Match, Ak-Sar-Ben, the Iowa State Fair, the VEISHA parade at Iowa State University, and the Mills County Fair.
  • In 1923 a Mother-Daughter Luncheon was held at Liberty Memorial Building at Malvern and was attended by 75 club members.
  • In 1934 there 51 boys and 86 girls enrolled in 4-H and a sheep club and a market pig club was organized.
  • Due to the drought in 1934, Mills County felt it would be impossible to have a county fair.
  • Boys and girls enrollment was very equal in 1952 with 136 boys in 12 clubs and 139 girls in 12 clubs.  There were 412 girls’ entries at the county fair.
  • There 1000 entries at the county fair in 1958.
  • In 1971 the Mills County 4-H’ers won the Ak-Sar-Ben beef herdsmanship award for the 8th straight year.
  • The Teen Club served as county melting pot to bring 4-H’ers together from all parts of the county.  The benefits were interstate trips to Oklahoma, Colorado, Nebraska and the bus tours to Washington D.C.
  • If you had livestock at the fair you would sleep at the fairgrounds.  Sneaking sleep at the golf course beside the fairgrounds was common.
  • 4-H was a way of life for some people and projects were many times as much a part of the day as the daily chores on the farm.  These chores included picking cherries, canning, freezing, making jelly or working in the melon fields.
  • A lot of the clubs learned about classical music by listening to records and also studying famous artist.
  • One 4-H’er remembers the 4-H slogan was, “To win without bragging, to lose without squealing.”
  • In 1907 /1908 the emblem was a three leaf clover with an ear of corn in the background.  The fourth H was added later.

Written By Grant Nikseresht

Extended history available here.







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