Iowa 4-H Legend: Glen Thompson - Iowa 4-H Foundation

Iowa 4-H Legend: Glen Thompson

Many Iowans learned leadership through recreation taught by Glen Thompson.  After fourteen years as a 4-H leader in Benton County, he served as State Extension Recreation Specialist for Iowa State University for twenty years—“the best years of my life,” he said.
Thompson said working with youth as the recreation specialist kept him young.  “I learned as much as they did,” he added.  About 1,000 youth leaders learned from Thompson at each year’s state 4-H leadership conference.  He said he worked with an average of 6,000-8,000 youth every year.
With 4-H, he traveled the whole state doing two and a half hour workshops with 4-H clubs or with all the club recreation officers in the county.  He taught games that they could lead in their own clubs and gave them tips for how to lead them.  He also worked with youth attendees at the annual weeklong state 4-H leadership camp.At Iowa State, professors brought Thompson in to teach social recreation workshops for college students.
Thompson preserved some of his games and techniques in four bulletins.  He authored three bulletins for Iowa State University on games—on simple, intermediate, and harder games—and one on leadership techniques.
His favorite games were simple to teach but still fun.  He focused on cooperative activities, games like elbow tag that “everybody could play [and] everybody could enjoy,” he said.  “I tried never to do games where an individual winner came out as the top person of the group,” he said.
Thompson recalled that square dancing, the hokey pokey, and the chicken dance were great activities in which everyone was capable of participating.  “There’s so many kinds of games,” he said.
One highlight of Thompson’s career came when he was asked to lead recreation for 1,600 youth at the Kansas City Royal.  He organized a grand march in a big hall.  “The leaders said they would’ve never believed it could’ve been done,” he said.
Another challenge Thompson took on was carrying out the world’s largest lap sit, with 1000 youth at a state leadership conference.  The youth stood in a tight circle, all facing one way so they could all sit on the knees of the person behind them, he explained.  “We got it done,” he said.  “That was probably one of the highlights.  There were a lot of them though.”
Thompson emphasized leadership, using recreation to develop young people’s leadership.
“I used recreation as teaching leadership skills,” he said.  For instance, one student of Thompson’s went on to be head of Cedar Rapid’s Parks and Recreation department.  He wrote a note to Thompson saying that he never realized how much Thompson had given them until he too became a professional.
It was at a weeklong recreation workshop, Hawkeye Recreatory, that Thompson was encouraged to go into recreation professionally.  He went to college in 1960 at age forty, working with Iowa City’s Parks and Recreation department during college.
Before that, he had traveled to the new state 4-H camp with Benton County 4-H members and been involved as a counselor with the Junior Farm Bureau.  He learned to lead square dances for that group, an organization for young adults that continued for a few years as Rural Young People.  “All this led to me going into recreation,” he said.  He became more involved with camping as the manager of the 4-H Camping Center for about three years, from November 1984 until he retired from Extension in January 1988.  His work with camps and young adults tied in with his years as recreation specialist.
© 2023 Iowa 4-H Foundation. All Rights Reserved.