Iowa 4-H Foundation

Posted on December 18, 2017 at 9:23 AM by Emily Saveraid

Story of 4-H and Youth Development in Des Moines County

Around the turn of the 20th century, clubs for youth were formed to teach youth life skills.  With the passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914, county agents in Iowa began to organize local clubs with the help of local leaders and volunteers.  Des Moines County was no exception.  Youth throughout the county were recruited to join boys and girls clubs that would focus on agriculture and home economics respectively.

The story of 4-H in Extension in Des Moines County is rooted in agriculture, but over its 100-year history has grown into a community educational service that also includes home and family, health, the economy, and youth development. This long-established three-way partnership between Des Moines County, Iowa State University and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides local youth with access to education and university research across a wide range of disciplines and issues.

The beginnings of 4-H and youth development  

The Tri-States Fair began in 1915 with ten counties in three states (Iowa, Illinois, Missouri) participating. The four counties in Iowa were Des Moines, Henry, Lee and Louisa. Held in Burlington from 1915 until 1946, the fair was a major event providing a showcase for youth to display their projects. Barns for poultry, beef, swine and dairy were filled with animals to compete in the show ring. Boys brought projects related to crops and other aspects of agriculture while girls displayed their work in sewing, canning, gardening and other homemaking areas.


DSM Teens

In 1916, the first mention was made of club work when twenty-three boys carried baby beef calf projects. Both boys and girls joined four clubs focusing on baby beef, pigs, acre corn and gardening. Clubs were first organized in townships with such names as Franklin Township club or Washington Township club. Danville had two clubs, one in the ‘Tornado’ district and the other in the ‘Long Creek’ district. Several new clubs were reported at the 1918 exposition (Tri-State Fair). A Girls Canning Club was organized by Miss Pearle L Greene, Home Demonstration Agent. The club presented demonstrations on canning since food conservation was encouraged due to shortages created by the War.

With the increase in interest among youth, it was felt additional staff members were needed. A meeting was held in West Liberty on February 4, 1919 to discuss securing the services of a 4-H club agent on a six-county basis. No action was taken then and it wasn’t until Feb 12, 1926 that Howard Schnittjer was hired half-time jointly with Lee County.



4-H by any other name is still the same 

“Junior Clubs” or “boys and girls club work” were the terms used in reports until the mid-1920s at which time they were referred to as 4-H Clubs.  Clubs were often called by the leader’s name or referred to as a township club. In 1929, canning clubs were listed by the leader’s name – e.g. Mrs. Faith Stucker’s Club and Mrs. H.O. Chandler’s Club.  

Clubs organized around project areas increased in number with reports of a 19-member canning club in Huron Township and 70 members in clothing clubs. By 1925 there were ten clothing clubs with 153 members. Nutrition clubs were formed a few years later. (It is not clear from the reports whether girls were in the same project club from year to year or if they joined a different project club each year.)   

The first mentions of individually named clubs were the Worth While Club of Yellow Springs Township and the Columbia Club with Miss Dorothy Bryant as leader. Boys 4-H clubs were also called by the name of the town, such as Yarmouth Club, or by the project until they were encouraged to also select a club name. It wasn’t until 1938 that the first two boys clubs chose a name - the Burlington Harvesters and Junior Judges 4-H clubs.

4-H Club work seen as vitally important

The stated purpose of 4-H club work in the 1920s was to train boys and girls in leadership and citizenship and to give them training in the best known practices of farming and homemaking.  For girls, an added purpose was: “to develop an appreciation of what is ordinarily considered routine work in the home…to promote a spirit of cooperation in localities, to develop healthy habits, and to broaden the acquaintanceship to include all members.”  Community leaders believed that 4-H club work was of vital importance in the county. Though not a stated purpose, it was acknowledged that 4-H teaches the parents better methods of farming and home making through the work done by their children in the 4-H clubs.  

One club existing in the 1920s was the Junior Potato Club organized in 1924 to better acquaint boys and girls and their parents with potato growing. A peck of treated early Ohio potatoes was given to each girl and boy. Results showed that potatoes can be grown in Iowa to a good advantage if they have good seed, treat the seed and give the crop the proper care.

The Market Litter club began in 1926 when youth enrolled through the Consolidated Schools of Huron, Sperry, Mediapolis, Yarmouth and the Danville School. County Club Agent Howard Schnittjer wrote: “I feel this club has a real value… because there are still so many farmers (who raise) inferior…pigs and let them run in the barnyards where hogs have run for the last 40 or 50 hog generations…”  The members of the Market Litter club  were: Gerald Barton, Bert Thomes, Robert Gerling, Carl Brown, Russell Seymour, Charles Michaels, Robert McIntyre, Eugene Moore, Claude Moore, Charles Beck, and Paul Tonkinson.

Local groups “…who helped materially in furthering 4-H club work were the newspapers of the county (Burlington Gazette and the Burlington Hawkeye), the Greater Burlington Association, the Burlington banks and business men.”  In 1926 4-H membership grew to 357 members, only to drop to 180 the following year when they were without a Club Agent due to his resignation. 

Approved footwear an issue

The 1920s brought changes in women’s fashions with Likely that was the reason for concerns about styles of clothing and footwear for girls and women in the mid-20s.  Extension junior girls clubs had a ‘shoe campaign’ to promote ‘approved shoes’.  The only hint of what constituted ‘approved shoes’ was in a later report that described these shoes as ‘straight-lined and low heeled’.

The first demonstration teams from Des Moines County went to the State Fair in 1923. They were Approved Foot Wear (Misses Ruth Medefesser and Eleanor Gregg, Danville) and Sewing Demonstration (Misses Esther Brunken and Helen Sawtell, Danville). 

The 1926 Extension Report included: “The clothing clubs…reach and influence more homes than does any other of the clubs. The work…has been influential causing the girls to wear approved shoes, to use better judgment in the planning of their entire wardrobe…”   Indeed, included in a 4-H program flyer that year were the Ten Commandments for an Iowa Club Girl. Along with such items as “Thou shalt appreciate good music” and “Thou shalt learn to ply the needle” was “Thou shalt not have ten sardines, but ten toes”.   The cooperation of the Greater Burlington Association, The Burlington Gazette and of Glick’s Wearing Apparel for Women was reported to be very instrumental in making the clothing clubs a success.

Approved footwear remained a focus as late as 1932 when it was reported that girls were buying the low heeled oxford shoes for sport wear and the military heel for dress and that they were proud to be wearing such a type. The county health doctor, Dr Suggett, noted that “…those having feet defects have been practicing exercises, trying to remedy their faults.” And still in 1940 mention was made by the Unity Club leader, Marjorie Bryant, of the focus on approved shoes: “One thing I’m particularly proud of is that each of the thirty members of this club is wearing approved shoes.”

4-H Slogan: Win without bragging, lose without squealing

4-H Health Contests were held at the county level; and in 1928, the contest was judged by Doctors Schaefer of Burlington, Mathias of Mediapolis and Campbell of Yarmouth. Winners Lillian Murphy of Union Township and Dale Nau of Danville Township went to state fair that year. Jim Evans in 1923 and Kenneth Redfern in 1929 not only won at the county level but were pronounced State Health Winners.  

Exhibits at the county fair were by club rather than by individuals. An example of a county fair class: “Collection of five jars of food including fish or meat which will make a well balanced meal.” And “three jars of different kinds of food to help solve the winter vegetable salad problem.”

County officers were elected for the first time in 1927 at the annual club banquet attended by 150 boys and girls. Elected were: Kenneth Redfern, President from Yarmouth; Keith Nau, Vice President from Danville; and Norman Smith, Secretary-Treasurer from Burlington. The county girls’ 4-H clubs first had their own officers in 1930.



In 1930 it was observed that “rural America’s brightest and better educated youth” were leaving the farm. The conclusion was “…it remains for Extension work, through the 4-H clubs, to train and save these young people for leaders in the rural communities.” Further it was believed that club work “…develops love and pride in farming, teaches cooperation…stresses respect for law and order, and teaches youth to express effectively and simply.”

Securing the services of a Home Demonstration Agent to work with girls clubs or a male county club agent to work with all 4-H clubs was strongly recommended to the Farm Bureau, who was the sponsoring agency at that time. In 1930, a Home Demonstration Agent was hired. It wasn’t until 1935 that Walter Eyre was hired as the first county club agent since 1926.  

4-H activities continued despite the Great Depression

The depression and poor economy had an impact on youth programs. The Baby Beef Club was smaller because the boys could not afford the ‘exorbitant price’ the beef breeders charged for calves. 4-H girls received clothing lessons on sewing their own clothes or making over old clothes “…thus helping their parents economize in these hard times.”  In those days, incentives were practical items like a five pound sack of whole wheat flour for getting reports in on time. Or the first girl in each club who baked her quick bread project received a box of dates and a date pitter. 

Meanwhile 4-H activities continued although commitment varied.  Mrs. Wilbur Chandler, leader of the Ever Ready Club, reported that one girl dropped out in the summer with a sigh saying it was too hot to sew. Another 4-H girl sat up almost all night to finish her dress for the style show.  A third girl walked five miles to her Achievement Day program carrying garments that she made. Parental involvement differed, too. One mother asked how to finish the pocket on a uniform her daughter was supposed to be making for the contest.  Yet another mother turned over the complete wardrobe problem to her daughter.

Community support important to 4-H program

Schools supported 4-H by providing time and space for clubs to meet.  Mr. Holmes Hamilton, Superintendent of Huron High School, allowed the Huron Junior Farmers to meet every two weeks during the school year.  But not everyone could attend school in those days. One club was organized in a community “…where a great number of the girls do not have an opportunity to go to High School. Here, the 4-H club gives them the companionship and inspiration these girls would otherwise miss.”

The Kiwanis club sponsored a hybrid corn project and encouraged club members in their work. Later Kiwanis members visited the 4-H members’ homes and held a banquet for them at the end of the project year. 

The Burlington Chamber of Commerce financed ten club calves by drawing names of 4-H members to receive a calf, then touring the farm to check on the animals.  When a committee from the Chamber and the Tri-State Fair board toured the farms, a newspaper article detailed these interesting highlights:

*At the Beckman farm, Robert put on a ‘bulldozing’ show for a little excitement. His calf didn’t take kindly to visitors and attempted to bolt. Robert soon had him under control.

* Two members of the group were nearly run over at the Belknap farm by two Herefords that were frightened by a pig which suddenly squealed; but Lloyd soon stopped them.

*An interesting sidelight at the Nau farm was the 4-H member’s mare named Echo and Echo’s colt, Re-echo.

The first county fair auction of animals was held in 1936 to benefit the boys and girls “who wished to dispose of their calves.”  The committee solicited pledges from businessmen to assure success. At auction the grand champion Hereford was exhibited by James Schulte and sold for $17.75/hundred pounds. Purchased by cashier Mortimer Goodwin of the First National Bank, the calf weighed 1,150 pounds.

It wasn’t ‘all work and no play’

For the bi-centennial birthday of George Washington in 1932, the Cheerful Chums 4-H Club made colonial costumes and danced the minuet at Rally Day. Music contests were held yearly so girls could learn ‘better music’ by recognizing songs written by famous composers.

There was a Kittenball Tournament with three clubs having softball teams competing at the Mediapolis ballpark. Both boys and girls clubs held a picnic jointly with the Farm Bureau at Perkins Park October 1939. Activities included horseshoe pitching, three-legged race, checkers tournament and contests for hog calling, tug of war and nail driving.  Highlights of each year were events such as 4-H Rally Days (separate ones for boys and girls), Tri-State Fair, State Convention and State Fair.

The girls Rally Day included the election and installation of officers, a luncheon, club songs and skits. Girls were encouraged to wear the Iowa official 4-H uniform then and it was noted how many clubs were 100% in uniform. “These ‘girls in blue’ symbolize the ideal American farm girls.”

A feature of the Tri-State Fair was the 4-H Club Camp for 4-H boys who stayed on the fairgrounds to care for their animals. The YMCA assisted with daily activities such as ping-pong, ring toss, horseshoe and baseball along with special talks by well-known Burlington men. For $4.00 for the full week (and helping in the kitchen) boys enjoyed daily swims at the Y, good meals, and a trip through the carnival grounds.

One year the Greater Burlington Association hosted the annual club banquet at Hotel Burlington with the Honorable John Hammill, Governor of Iowa, and R.K. Bliss, Iowa Extension Director as speakers. As usual, group singing was part of the program – songs such as Till We Meet Again, the Iowa Corn Song and Jingle Bells. 

Local celebrity honored with heroine’s welcome

Edith Belknap, a 16-year-old member of the Happy Larks 4-H Club in Yellow Springs Township, was chosen as County Health Champion in 1936 and won at the State Fair to represent Iowa at the national 4-H girls health contest in Chicago. This brought honor to her and Des Moines County; and she was accorded a heroine’s welcome.

A newspaper headline read Mediapolis Girl Health Champion and described plans for welcoming her back to the county. School authorities and leading citizens of Mediapolis made plans for a reception on her return from the state fair. In Burlington a public demonstration was considered, sponsored by officials of the Tri-State Fair Association, as well as plans to dedicate the Sunday night band concert in Crapo Park her.  

Girls undaunted by weather woes

Poor weather affected transportation of girls to club meetings in 1938. Mrs. Bob Henry, leader of the M.A.C. club, wrote: “Unusual club spirit was shown by the fact that there was perfect attendance at all of the meetings despite the fact that it rained at nearly every meeting. The girls came by nearly every means of conveyance to attend, these meetings; namely, walking, bicycles, ponies, horse and buggy, and cars. This shows their determination to be 4-H girls.”  Mrs. W.B. Smith, club leader in Washington Township, reported assisting with transportation. “As many of the girls had no way to go the county fair, we hired a truck for $4.50 to take all of them…they took their lunches, stayed all day, and for the evening entertainment.”

In the 1930s examples of county fair classes for club projects included a Wash Day unit (clothes pin bag, clothes line, hamper, homemade soap) or Ironing Day Unit (ironing board cover, ironing board protector, clothes sprinkler). County fair demonstrations included such topics as Hospitality and Table Etiquette, How to Obtain Good Results From Ironing, Healthy Feet Make Happy Smiles, and Cleaning Metals.

A contest was held in May 1938 to name the newsletter for 4-H members. 4-H Scribblins was chosen, submitted by Emilie Schuler of Sperry. By 1993 it was named The Clover Leaf and continues to this day (2015).



War affected club work

During the early 1940s, World War II affected 4-H as some events were scaled back or canceled altogether. The Tri-State Fair went from a week-long event to three days and was called the County 4-H Club Show. Some girls 4-H leaders resigned due to extra fieldwork and other work they were called to do.  Many felt that 4-H club work was an activity they could drop to save time, travel and money during the war. In addition the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant that took 20,000 acres out of the county resulted in relocation of many families, thus limiting the expansion of several clubs in the county. This resulted in an all-time low of only three girls 4-H clubs: Unity, Industrious Maids, and Ever Ready. There were eight ‘farm project’ (boys) 4-H clubs.

Still during this time period, Des Moines County sent a contingent of boys to a Chicago event, presented training schools for the girls, hosted a large Jubilee at the Hotel Burlington and showed exhibits at the county fair. They participated in skating parties, camps, record book parties and plenty of demonstrations.

C.C. Cotton, County Agent in agriculture, spoke to the girls at their Rally Day about their responsibilities in the defense program. 4-H members were active in war emergency campaigns by buying and selling bonds, participating in the county Red Cross drive and collecting scrap rubber and iron.

With the “Food for Freedom” slogan in mind, both boys and girls added projects with garden and potato clubs. More than 3800 pounds of certified seed potatoes were planted by club members in cooperation with Benner Tea Company of Burlington. Members planted, tended and harvested the potatoes and paid for their seed after potatoes were sold. If they were Grade A, they could sell them to the store over market price.  4-H members had not been greatly interested in swine production in the past but with increased pork production requested by the government; both boys and girls were involved in feeding market pigs and market litters. 

A lingering effect of the war was a drop in 4-H interest among older members due to the defense program, which recruited 17-19 year olds late in 1950. “This ‘oh well, what’s the use – I’ll probably soon be in the armed forces’ attitude affected not only the older boys, but many of the younger ones as well.”

The Tri-State Fair disbanded in 1946 due to financial difficulties. The Des Moines County Fair Association was approved April 1947 and has sponsored the fair since then. From 1951 to 1974 the county fair was known as the Burlington Hawkeye Fair; and in 1974 was renamed the Des Moines County Fair.   

Return to normalcy later in 1940s

The first 4-H Rally Day since the war began was in 1945. A county skating party held at the end of the heaviest summer's work fell on V-J Day.  It turned out to be “a most happy arrangement”. Parents, leaders, and club members were at the skating rink 200 strong.

A special feature at the 1947 county fair was a 4-H livestock parade where the boys and their animals were presented as they passed the reviewing stand and girls in the home economics clubs were presented on the stage.

1949 saw the highest number of girls 4-H clubs (12) up to that point in history. Unity 4-H Club was listed as the oldest continuously organized club in the county.

Jubilee an annual recognition event

Since 1945 an annual 4-H Jubilee for boys and girls 4-H members, leaders and parents was held at Hotel Burlington to recognize members’ achievements. The Jubilee was usually in January with the two county 4-H presidents (boy and girl) sharing Master of Ceremonies duties. The annual banquet was typically attended by over 400. The hour-long program was broadcast live over KBUR radio station.

Each year an outstanding boy and girl were recognized for work in the prior year.  At the 1946 4-H Jubilee, the Hawkeye-Gazette presented a war bond to the outstanding 4-H club boy and girl, Myron Schulz Jr. and Marjorie Walker.

The master of ceremonies in 1949 was Ted Hutchcroft, a Mediapolis 4-H club member, and also one of 30 delegates from the USA sent to Europe that year under the International Farm Youth Exchange (IFYE) program. (In 2014 Ted Hutchcroft recalled that it was unusual for farm boys to travel overseas. This experience set the path for his life’s work when he was hired as information director of the National 4-H Foundation, later serving in several foreign countries to aid development of 4-H-like rural youth groups.)



Beverly Walker elected State President of 4-H girls clubs

It was reported that Des Moines County was very proud to have Beverly Walker (now Beverly Gerst) elected State 4-H Girls President at the June 1950 girls state 4-H convention. The Des Moines County delegation campaigned with songs and cheers for Ambitious Pals 4-H Club member Walker who served as President for the 1950-51 year.

A new event sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce for members who had completed record books was held at Memorial Auditorium in 1950.  Dubbed the Record Book Party, 200 attended the first one. “It was most gratifying to have the agricultural committee of the Chamber of Commerce decide to reward all boys and girls who had completed their projects by completing (their) record books and turning them in to the office.” Appreciation for their sponsorship was shown at the 1954 event hosted by 70 businessmen when 4-H girls presented each host with a homemade pumpkin pie!

4-H Club Council promotes activities

A county 4-H Club Council made up of one member of each of the boys and girls clubs was formed in 1952  to promote interest and expand 4-H programs and activities. Projects included building and operating a refreshment stand at the county fair and putting up roadside welcome signs at four entrances to the county. 

The group held a recreation training school to learn square dancing so that they could help teach it in their local clubs.  Later 700 youth and adults attended a county-wide square dance October 1953 as a fund raiser for the State 4-H Camp. “…at one time, there were as many as 17 squares going at the same time…The crowd especially enjoyed the bunny hop, the butterfly waltz and the circle two steps.” 

A first in 1956 was a 4-H Exchange trip sponsored by Burlington Bank and Trust for two boys selected to visit Colorado for two weeks.  Leonard Lane and Gary Tucker were chosen and then later hosted two boys from Colorado. The next year it was the girls’ turn to participate. 4-H members Linda Lee and Martha Mapel exchanged visits with 4-H members from Wyoming.  (Martha Jane Mapel Bechtel later served as Extension Home Economist for Des Moines County). 

The Benner Tea Company sponsored the first leaders’ banquet in 1957 for all club leaders and their spouses.  

J. S. Schramm Company sponsored style shows

As part of teaching about better grooming, J. S. Schramm Company, a women’s clothing store in downtown Burlington, presented a style show along with Simplicity Pattern Company and Warner Brothers Foundation Garment Company.  1000 attended the multi-county event planned for 4-H club members, home economics students and home economists. Similar events were held several years with Mrs. Betty Guy, Schramm’s stylist, coordinating the shows.  

Adults and youth receive state awards for 4-H work

In the early 1950s, 4-H member Marion Anderson received the state award for the best dairy record book in the state. Warren Gustafson won a trip to National 4-H Club Congress in Chicago for his poultry projects and later Howard Keitzer won the trip for his electricity project. The first person in Des Moines County history to receive the Emerald Award of the Clover was Cecil Krekel in 1955 for 25 years of 4-H leadership. In 1956 and 1957 respectively, Mrs. W.W. Carithers, Morning Sun, and Mrs. Kenneth Baugher, Danville, were one of only four Iowans to receive the State 4-H Alumni Achievement Award.



First Co-Ed 4-H Club organized

Most 4-H clubs and many events were separate for boys and girls. In 1956 interest was expressed in the Middletown and Iowa Ordinance Plant area for a 4-H club for both boys and girls. “This idea was quite a departure from the traditional organization of boys and girls clubs.” (Girls had sometimes been part of a boy’s club if they had livestock projects.) The club began with 5 boys and 15 girls. Since none were farm youth, members had such projects as entomology, plant collection and electricity. “Results…indicate that club work can be done successfully with non-farm boys and girls…and in the same club.”

The 4-H Club Committee ruled in 1960 that girls couldn’t be in a boys club but had to be in a girls ‘livestock’ club to show animals. This was later withdrawn due to much opposition, so girls were allowed to be in a boys club as long as they were also in a girls club.

Perhaps that was the impetus for a ‘new concept of 4-H’ in 1961 when “…for the first time in the history of the 4-H organization a combined Rally Night of both boys and girls clubs featured the selection of a 4-H county officer council.” Also in 1961 the boys and girls 4-H club committees of adults combined into one Extension Youth Committee. Interestingly, that same year, the original co-ed club, the Middletown Mixers, had separated into a girls club called Middletown Meadowlarks and a boy’s club called Middletown Missiles. The first ‘urban’ girls 4-H club, Mississippi Merry Makers, was chartered in March 1961.

The former 4-H Jubilee was not held in 1963, but was combined with the Recognition Party and for the first time was under the leadership of the 4-H county officers. 

Cooperative efforts

Extension programs have always been dependent on many volunteers and agencies as cooperators in programs. It is the ‘Cooperative’ Extension Service after all! Some examples of cooperators: a 4-H Calendar was sponsored by the National Bank of Burlington and sent to every 4-H family to stimulate interest and to spread the 4-H name and emblem throughout the county. The Burlington Chamber of Commerce sponsored 4-H gate signs.  

Honors and awards for 4-H alumni

Former 4-H member, Ted Hutchcroft, was the featured speaker at the Jubilee in 1960. Hutchcroft lived in Washington DC serving with the National 4-H Club Foundation. At the 18th annual Jubilee in 1962, Julia Metier, former Des Moines County Extension Home Economist, and Clarence W. Moody, retired editor of the Burlington Hawk Eye, received county 4-H Meritorious Service awards.

Special recognition was given at the state and national levels to adult volunteers in 4-H work. Art Centner received a certificate of recognition from the national 4-H alumni recognition program in 1961. Howard Waters of Danville was one of four Iowans to receive the Iowa 4-H Alumni Recognition award for 1966. Cecil Krekel received the Sapphire Clover award for 35 years of service to 4-H.

4-H enrollment climbs with expansion into new areas  

New types of projects to ‘fit the city 4-H need’ included rockets, taxidermy, dramatics and electronics. A dog project was led by Dr. R. J. Cowles, Burlington veterinarian. Five 4-H clubs completed gun safety activities with instructors Myron Schulz, Calvin Wirt, Marion Drinkall and Mr. Ellison. Arne Nielsen led the new county electric project group and Chuck Siekman and Bob Scott offered training for the photography project.

In 1960, for the first time 4-H club membership was over 500. Some clubs were so large they divided and chose new names – such as Unity Echoes, Long Creek Lassies, Honey Bees, Colonial Maids, Jimtown Hawks and Burlington Harvesters.

Concordia Champions 4-H club planted 3,250 Australian, red, and white pine trees on the Burton Prugh acreage south of Burlington as a forestry project in 1961. This was done by machine with the help of foresters as a public demonstration on tree planting, soil conservation and woodlot establishment.

The year 1964 marked 50 years of ISU Extension and 4-H in Des Moines County. A Golden Anniversary program was held March 18 to commemorate the milestone. 4-Hers wore uniforms from different periods to showcase the changes over time. The program included a re-creation of one of the first girls demonstrations to go to the State Fair, "We Can Carrots."  A commemorative pin oak tree was planted at the Burlington Hawkeye Fair grounds.

For the 18th year, Mrs. B. J. Holihan was the chief cook at 4-H Dining Hall at the Burlington Hawkeye Fair serving about 100 4-H members three full meals a day in 1965.

Judy Laue and Carolyn Hodges won a trip to the 1966 State Fair demonstrating the use of nonfat dry milk. They later extended their teaching into the community with five demonstrations to 250 people. Mary Logan was a delegate to the 1966 State 4-H Safety Conference and was motivated to organize a coffee stop in Mediapolis over Labor Day weekend to help drivers stay alert while driving. At least 200 cars stopped by.  

4-H ‘advances’ into new urban projects

An innovative new Extension outreach for low-income youth was initiated in 1969 by Jim Hodges, County Extension Director, and carried out with the assistance of three summer staff members who were college students and former 4-H members: Richard McDonald, Kathy Strawhacker and Patricia Steiner.

Called the Des Moines County 4-H for Advancement of Youth program, program outreach was to youth in families of limited income. Week-long day camps at South Sixth Street and Flint Hills Manor along with sewing and woodworking classes were offered in Burlington. Eventually this led to new 4-H clubs: Cloverettes, an older girl’s 4-H club of 22 African Americans led by Katherine Bigson and Helene Miller, and Green Lollipops 4-H club for 9-12 year olds with Marscine Knotts as leader.

Summer sewing classes were held for older siblings of Head Start children. Strawhacker and Steiner taught 24 girls to sew garments, which they modeled in a style show for their parents and friends. In the fall, parents of the girls requested sewing classes for themselves. “Mrs. Arlene Weissinger, an Extension secretary, was detached from the office one morning each week for two months to conduct classes” for the adults.

Expanded Nutrition Program comes to Des Moines County

Due to the farsightedness of Extension Director Hodges who saw the need to reach out to youth in limited resource families, programs put in place in the late 1960s set the stage for the successful launching of the youth phase of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), called Expanded Nutrition Program (ENP) in Iowa.

The youth phase of the Expanded Nutrition Program began in 1969 with hiring an Extension 4-H & Youth Leader for ENP, Vena Rossman Dyer. Since the purpose of ENP was to improve the nutrition knowledge and eating habits of low-income children, Extension staff worked closely with schools and agencies such as Salvation Army and Community Action Agency to reach eligible children and families.



County fair facilities on the move

The decade of the 70s brought changes to the county fair. Due to the construction of a freeway through Burlington, the fairgrounds had to be relocated in 1973. Facilities in nearby Middletown were used for the 4-H competitions and displays for several years.

A unique partnership involving the County Board of Supervisors, Southeastern Community College (SCC) and the County Fair Board was completed in 1977 with a signed agreement to provide shared facilities for a permanent county fairgrounds on the campus of the Southeastern Community College. The new Agri-Sports Arena (gymnasium) and Agri-Livestock Arena became the home of 4-H for the Des Moines County Fair in 1977 when the county fair was held for the first time on the SCC campus, an arrangement which continues to this day (2017).    

4-H members spread their wings outside the county

As long as Les Schoffelman was the Extension 4-H & Youth Leader for both Des Moines and Henry counties (1967-1986), many events he coordinated were joint endeavors between the two counties. Each year during the 1970s, older 4-H members and adults from both counties visited the Iowa Legislature in session to learn the process of state government first hand and to meet local legislators. Trips were also arranged for older 4-H members to go to Washington DC for the Citizenship Short Course.

Two-way exchange trips with groups of 4-H members from another state were carried out. Instead of two young people visiting another state as in the 1960s, this gave the opportunity to 15 or 20 youth to enjoy the experience. One year they were guests of another state’s 4-H program and the next year they were the hosts. States involved in exchanges included North Carolina, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania among others.

The highest ever enrollment in traditional 4-H club program with 689 members in 37 clubs occurred in 1972 and has not been matched since. In addition, 4286 youth were reached through the Expanded Nutrition Program.

Traditional 4-H Club continues to broaden  

Urban expansion with “responsibilities to seek out and expand the youth program to urban and disadvantaged audiences” impacted the traditional 4-H club program. Project training sessions were held in knitting, climatology/weather reporting, and photography. Each summer, college age students were employed in the county office to assist with summer camps, county fairs and other Extension activities.

New clubs were formed around special interests of youth – similar to the beginnings of club work in the 1920s.  Along with sheep and horse clubs, there was a tropical fish club and clubs with ENP youth interested in cooking and gardening. One club, the Cool Cavonnettes, began as a music group led by volunteer Chris Wiemann. She organized a special Christmas program with the youth opened to the public.

Des Moines County was recognized as a ‘pioneer’ in Iowa for having several Special Education clubs.  Three special education clubs were formed - Happy Hearts, Dankwardt Oaks and Jolly Roses. 

Visits to elementary schools and recruitment at summer day camps and project groups resulted in more than 30 clubs formed during the decade.  Some of the new clubs were Hilltop Helpers, Beaver Tails, Burlington Sprockets, Hibernia Helpers, Soaring Eagles and North Corner Cloverettes. 

School nutrition taught through innovative Menu Packets

An elementary principal expressed a need for a way to encourage students to try new or different foods on the school lunch menus. Vena Rossman Dyer, the Extension 4-H & Youth Leader with the Expanded Nutrition Program, created a weekly ‘menu packet’ for teachers which illustrated a food on the menu each day. The teacher read about the food item to the students before lunch to interest them in trying the food. This began with 37 teachers in three elementary schools.

When Dyer resigned, Patricia Steiner was hired and continued the program expanding to 123 teachers in all 13 Burlington elementary schools. The packets proved so popular that eventually 245 teachers throughout the entire county requested them reaching nearly 4000 youth each week. Word of the innovative project spread and the Menu Packet program was featured in a 1973 issue of the School Food Service Journal. The next year Steiner was a panel speaker at the national meeting of American Home Economics Association in Los Angeles CA where samples of the menu packet were distributed to the 600 attendees in that session.

How does your garden grow?

Summer gardening experience was provided in the early 1970s for children from limited resource families. Vacant lots were located at Miller Street on the south side of Burlington and at Lucas and Belmont streets near the ‘Manor’. More than 150 children planted an 8’ X 12’ plot and were taught to plant and care for vegetables. Songs and games related to gardens and nutrition were activities they enjoyed as well as learning how to harvest and prepare foods.  Family members were invited to a field day at the gardens and attended a We Care Night as a finale for children and their families.

Federal and state fund cuts forced the closing of the youth phase in March 1976.  In the mid-1980s the adult unit also closed. However in the mid-1990s, a similar program called the Family Nutrition Program (FNP) was re-introduced in the county when Judith Licko was hired as the first FNP Assistant to teach free nutrition classes to young families. Lisa McPherson was hired in 2012 when Licko retired.  

People and events of note

A walnut gavel carved by Frank Hedges, Huron Township, became a symbol of peace and unity for youth leaders in the Western Hemisphere when he carved a gavel at the request of Ted Hutchcroft. The gavel, shaped from walnut grown on the Hedges’ farm, bore the cloverleaf symbol of 4-H. The Mediapolis New Era reported that the gavel “hewn and carved from Iowa walnut…will be used to open the 1970 Inter-American Rural Youth Leaders Conference in Argentina.”  

Linda Rauhaus, former member of the Huron Peppy Pals 4-H Club, was selected as one of six Iowa delegates for the International Farm Youth Exchange (IFYE) Program and served in Mexico in 1972. Cecil Krekel was selected as one of four state of Iowa 4-H Alumni winners for 1974.  

The Burlington Harvesters 4-H Club celebrated its 50th anniversary March 1978. Iowa’s State 4-H Leader, C.J. Gauger (a former Vo-Ag teacher at Mediapolis) attended the celebration mentioning only about 12 clubs in Iowa at that time were eligible for the 50th year citation.

The 10th anniversary of federal Expanded Nutrition Program (ENP) was commemorated in May 1979 with an open house for current and former ENP staff and clients as well as the public. Burlington Mayor Tom Diewold and ISU State Extension staff members CJ Gauger and Betty Elliott from Ames participated in the ceremony.  



Difficulty recruiting members  

By 1980 membership had dropped to 422. Extension 4-H & Youth Leader Schoffelman expressed frustration in efforts to expand 4-H because of people’s busy schedules. He noted that two family incomes and mothers working outside of the home had an effect on family time. With the farm crisis of the 1980s more women worked outside the home and had less time to volunteer. He also wrote “…instant recognition of athletic games seems to be more appealing to parents than the educational advantages of 4-H.”   

Some of the changes in the program during the 1980s reflected those of a changing society.  In the late 1980s, affirmative action efforts meant clubs were asked to change club names if the name implied one gender such as ‘Lassies’ or ‘Maids’. There was an emphasis on personal development through 4-H and making all projects open to all members. Boys became more involved in home economics projects at the fair.

As the farm crisis affected more 4-H families, it was suggested that 4-H projects be modified to cost less and a 4-H money management project was added.  Clubs were encouraged to have more service type fund raising instead of drives that involved cost input.      

Youth involved in 4-H developed skills in communication that served them well in their adult lives. Interest in communication presentations at the county fair increased to 55 presentations given in one year.  “…Being able to express one’s self on their feet is a skill most people desire.  4-H members who take part in the Communications Division have a head start in this skill,” reported Schoffelman.



4-H activities continue despite Extension Staff reorganization in the state

The 4-H program underwent administrative changes in the 1990s that led to a different way of reaching members and volunteers. Instead of a 4-H & Youth Leader serving one county, a 4-H & Youth Field Specialist served several counties and assisted county program staff in bringing training for leaders, members and committees. Along with countywide activities such as livestock grooming workshops and science day camps, more events such as camps and trips were offered on a multi-county and regional basis.

Janet Fitzgibbon was hired as county program assistant in 1993 to assist with 4-H programs. Even with staff changes and extension reorganization, 4-H activities continued through the many hours spent by dedicated volunteers and 4-H members and families. Day camps, county fair, awards night, and workshops continued year by year.

For several years, Farm Safety Day Camps, open to 4-H members and other interested youth, and a Fishing Camp were held. A 4-H Photography Traveling Display of outstanding photos was hosted in various locations throughout the county.  The Clover Kids clubs were formed during the 1990s to allow younger children to take part in 4-H activities appropriate for their age group.  

Unity H 4-H club celebrated 30 years as a club. Mary Laue organized the club in 1961 and served all 30 years as leader.

The Friends of 4-H fund receives donations through an annual fund drive. Money from this fund was used to defray the costs of trips and camps by providing scholarships for 4-H members. In 2014, the Friends of 4-H fund was replaced with the Des Moines County Endowment fund.

Year 2000 and beyond


The decade and a half from 2000 to 2014 included two major changes that were unprecedented - the ending of the County Extension Director position in October 2009 and the location of the county extension office outside of Burlington in November 2011. Both decisions were based on funding and affected 4-H programs in various ways

With less support from federal, state and county funds, more grant money was sought for programs for youth and adult Extension education.

Grant funds for youth outreach

Special funding and grants provided outreach education in various program areas to youth.  Science education in the schools was carried out by county-employed staff beginning in 1995. Most recently, Rhonda Coffey Mueller regularly taught science lessons in classrooms throughout the county, reaching several thousand students each year. She also taught summer science day camps for many summers through 2012.  

The Iowa Association of County Extension Councils (IACEC) was formed statewide and sponsored various awards. In 2001 the award for an outstanding program was awarded to Des Moines County Extension Council for their youth science and technology outreach efforts.

Federal and state funding provided for nutrition education in elementary classrooms through the state-wide Pick a Better Snack program from 2005 until June 2012. Through the years, nutrition program assistants, including Melissa Lenz, Tonya Strunk, Shannon Dunn, and Michelle Crandall, reached hundreds of elementary students each year with nutrition and physical activity lessons.

Youth enrollment

In 2000, there were 22 4-H community clubs and four Clover Kids (pre-4-H) clubs. By the end of 2014 there were 15 4-H clubs and three Clover Kids clubs with total membership of over 300. Reflecting a more urban youth membership, special interest projects and clubs included welding, fishing quilting and gardening clubs. Safety and Education in Shooting Sports was a new club formed in 2011 to teach basic shooting fundamentals to interested 4-H members guided by as many as 14 adult volunteers.

Newer requirements have included filing an ethics form, paying a 4-H membership fee, and screening of volunteers. Greater use of technology has helped with quicker communication. Newsletters can be sent via email, short messages can be texted via cell phones and 4-H enrollment is now online.

Strong tradition of service

The 4-H program continues to thrive in Des Moines County for many reasons. 4-H club members have always had a strong tradition of community service. Every year clubs developed new ways to reach out and help those who are in need in various ways. This not only provides a direct service but also instills a sense of commitment to their community.

Research-based information continues to be the foundation of Extension education. Des Moines County enjoys a strong commitment from many volunteers to make the 4-H program successful. Long-term club leaders often stay involved long after their own children have graduated or they serve on some of the many committees it takes to run the program. Former members comment that the skills they learned in 4-H served them well as they applied for jobs and advanced in their careers.


Annual Reports of the Cooperative Extension Service, Des Moines County from 1914-1992.

4-H Historian’s scrapbooks from the 1940s through 1980s.

Original 4-H History report written by Janet Fitzgibbon, former 4-H Program Assistant, 2008.

2014 newspaper articles chronicling the 100 Years of Des Moines County Extension written by Patricia Steiner, former 4-H member and Des Moines County and ISU Extension staff member from 1971 to present.

Updated June 2017.

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