Iowa 4-H Foundation

Posted on April 24, 2017 at 3:19 PM by Emily Saveraid

The first Palo Alto County 4-H Club started as a Purebred Gilt Club in July of 1920.  Twenty young people signed up and six members actually starting with hogs. Agent France casually reports that five of the six originators completed the project with the sixth member unable to do so because he drowned. 

By 1924 the club numbers and variety has expanded widely.  The Purebred Gilt program was in full swing.  A local fall festival (which we now call our county fair) was just in its infancy, but the swine evaluator (we call them judges now) bemoaned the fact that the Hampshire hogs raised locally hadn’t been able to make the Iowa State Fair where they would have easily won first, second, and possibly third place ribbons.  The records indicated that the hogs in this project grew by the staggering amount of 1 ½  pounds per day and at the Fall Festival weighed in at an average of 217 pounds – that was in only 165 days.  Diary clubs were also very popular since dairy numbers were rapidly increasing the county.  What is interesting is that these clubs were coed with a number of young ladies showing heifer calves at the fall festival.  Young club members not yet identified as 4-H’ers were also involved in exciting poultry programs such as chicken culling, caponizing, and poultry processing or “Sanitary Plucking”. 

In 1924, Miss Packman, outlined the Girls Clothing Club project, with the lofty aims of:  “bringing out the best in our girls and teach the best clothing practices.”  It was hoped that within a year there would be a club in each township.  To quote the annual report:  “The result of this project has been the organization of Girls’ Clubs in Ellington, Freedom, Emmetsburg, Great Oak, Highland, Lost Island and Silver Lake Township with a total enrollment of 137.  Fifty-six meetings were held with a total attendance of 1080. 

The exciting news at the Fall Festival was the appearance of the 4-H Clover and official acknowledgement that we were now officially 4-H’ers. 

In February of 1936, Margaret Pratt began working in Palo Alto County as a home demonstration agent.  She thought there should be girls’ clubs where there were none.  A short time later there were girls’ club in each of the sixteen townships in the county.  Along with the formation of the clubs, Margaret recruited and trained adult leadrs who in turn worked directly with the members.  Nearly 400 girls participated in a very successful youth program.  

In the early 1960’s Extension staff quicly grasped the reality that they were no longer serving an exclusively rural clientele.  For example, 4-H programs had been designed for rural youth and were centered on agriculture and rural homemaking.  They concluded that 4-H programs were equally applicable to town youth.  The purpose of 4-H was the development of young people, development of the individual in terms of leadership and acceptance of responsibility.  New projects that were created to interest both rural and town youth included photography, financial management and gardening.    

Today the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in Palo Alto County continues to carry Iowa State’s land-grant mission beyond campus.  With the help of social media, it provides education and partnerships designed to solve today’s problems and prepare for the future.  It continues to provide resources, trainings, ad programs in four signature areas – Economic Development, Food and the Environment, Health and Well-being, and K-12 Youth Outreach.  With the help of caring adult vounteers, the 4-H program continues to teach youth Healthy Living, STEM, Citizenship and Leadership, and Communication and the Arts so they may become productive citizens, outstanding communicators, effective leaders and successful learners.

Today Palo Alto County has 120 4-H members in eight community clubs and 120 Clover Kids in four afterschool clubs.  We have projects and activities that weren’t even dreamed of 80 years ago.  Our young people see more of the world in an evening web surfing then their predecessors saw in a lifetime.  Clothing has changed and fashions of old, if imposed on today’s youth, would strike them dead in their tracks. 

Despite it all 4-H is still devoted to the business of “Youth Development” and the growing of our next generation of Leaders for:  Our Clubs, Our Communities, Our Country, Our World. 

County Extension Agents/Directors that have served Palo Alto County:


1916-1920    Bert L. France

1920-1928    Fred F. Clarke

1928-1933    Virgil K. Webster

1933-1938    Randall Hoffman

1938-1963    R.W. “Curly” Ashby

1963-1966    John Johnson

1966-1986    Harold Heykes

1987-1995    Mark Storr

1995-2005    George Hammond

2005-2009    Bob Behnkendorg

2009-2012    Terry Jansen

2012 –           Bryan Whaley


View the history of Palo Alto County in pictures HERE  

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