Page County, Iowa 4-H History

Iowa 4-H History By County

Page County, Iowa 4-H History


Jessie Field ShambaughPage County is proud to be the birthplace of 4-H. In 1901 Jessie Field began teaching at Goldenrod School in Fremont Township. She taught “science, in simple ways, as well as the other academic subjects.” The students planted and tended a garden before school, during recess, and at noon. After school on alternate days, Miss Field and the girls studied the art of homemaking, and the boys worked on growing corn. These classes were the first Boys Corn Club and Girls Home Club, the forerunners to 4-H community clubs.

In 1906, Miss Field was elected as the Page County Superintendent of Schools. She enlisted the help of teachers to have a Boys Corn Club and Girls Home Club in each of the 130 one-room country schools in Page County. Miss Field thought country children should be organized, and they should have their interest aroused by friendly competition. In the fall, the first Junior Exhibit was held at the Farmers Institute in the basement of the Clarinda Armory.

To encourage more boys to show results of their work, Miss Field designed a pin, a three-leaf clover, to represent scientific agriculture. The letter H placed on each leaf stood for head, hand, and heart. In the center was a kernel of corn bearing the word Page. This pin was awarded to each boy who exhibited an agricultural product. When the girls were organized, they, too, wanted to wear the pin for work accomplished. Therefore a fourth H was added symbolizing home.

During the 1920s, the boys’ projects centered on swine, which included market pig, market litter, and purebred gilts and sows. The girls studied garment making, bread making, and canning. In 1927, Irene Crist and Clara Blank won the Grand Champion home economics demonstration team of Iowa. In 1928 Esther Miller of Tarkio Township was chosen as Queen of all Iowa 4-H club girls at the Ames Short Course. In 1929 Inez Stephensen was the grand champion style show girl at the state fair, wining a trip to the national club congress at Chicago. The first boys and girls banquet was held at the Shenandoah Armory.

Times were tough during the mid 1930s, with few paved roads and little cash. Clifford Johnson, 4-H Club Agent from 1935 through 1936, remembered that at many 4-H meetings the chairs were apple crates. He stated how Henry Field gave out packets of garden seeds, and Swift Hatchery gave 25 chicks to each boy and girl. “The gardens and chickens were a way to involve community businesses with the youth. These projects were low cost, but yet taught so much to many 4-H’ers.

Goldenrod SchoolAfter the war years, Page County’s 4-H boys and girls launched a campaign for more food for European families. Each club was asked to pay $3 for a packet of seeds for a medium-sized garden. More than 500 people attended the Girl’s 4-H Rally Day program, and 400 persons attended the Boy’s County Wide party. Mrs. Jessie Field Shambaugh was officially recognized as the “Mother of the 4-H Club Movement” in 1948.

The 1950s started with Mrs. Jessie Field Shambaugh receiving an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Doane College in recognition for her meritorious achievements in the fields of education and rural vocational recreation. The new 4-H exhibit building was dedicated to Danish-born Ole Wibholm for his commitment to youth. The guest speaker, C. W. McManamy, farm editor of the Council Bluffs Nonpareil, stated, “This building is a monument to the 4-H organization of the county. It is concrete evidence of the backing of the community.”

Page County 4-H members, Extension staff, and chaperones were on the road in the 1960s! Exchange delegations traveled twice to Weyburn, Saskatchewan, Canada; Rutherford County, Tennessee; Placer County, California; and Lenawee County, Michigan. Local families hosted the delegates, and they toured agricultural enterprises and took sightseeing trips. In 1965 the Goldenrod School was dedicated as a public museum on the Page County fairgrounds.

In the 1970s the Page County 4-H Program started hiring 4-H Program Assistants, Summer Aides, and Summer Recreational Aides. They conducted hands-on sessions on topics such as learning about energy and bicycle safety. These assistants and aides served the smaller communities as well as Clarinda and Shenandoah. Because of civil rights, in 1978 the Boys and Girls Committee was renamed the 4-H Action Committee.

During the 1980s, there were roller skating parties for junior 4-H members, swimming parties for intermediate members, and hundreds of participants in the basketball tournaments. In 1986 there was a new procedure for home economics judging. “Each judge will evaluate one subject matter, and a full-page comment sheet will be used for better learning.” The Youth Committee donated $5,000 to the Wibholm Hall building fund to finish the kitchen. Unfortunately, the original hall was destroyed by fire.

4-H Afterschool ProgramBesides 4-H clubs in the 1990s, the Page County 4-H Program started School Enrichment programs. These curricula are designed for use in classrooms to complement the school-based learning. Two of the first School Enrichment programs were KidAbility, a child abuse prevention course, and On My Own and OK, which showed youth how to stay home alone and be safe. Marsville, where county teams plan a trip to Mars; No Big Deal, sexual harassment awareness training; and Boomerang, character building education; were added in the late 1990s. Also in 1998, the first Clover Kids groups were started that targeted youth in Kindergarten through third grade.

The 21st century started with an anniversary tribute called, The Very Beginnings – 100 Years of 4-H in Page County. The event was held May 4 to 6, 2001. The entire weekend was filled with rich and exciting tales of 4-H throughout the decades. More than 1,100 participants came from eight states.

In 2004 the Page County 4-H Program led the Southwest Iowa Citizenship Washington Focus trip. It was the first time the trip was organized and administered by a county. Debbie Swanson, County 4-H Youth Coordinator, was in charge of 42 youth and 4 chaperones from 11 southwest counties. The group toured historical sites, held discussions with legislators, and witnessed the historical funeral procession of President Ronald Reagan. One youth said, “Wow, this experience was great! I am going home with souvenirs, new friendships, a better understanding of the duties of being a citizen, and memories that will last a lifetime.”

From 2006 through 2009, the Page County 4-H Program designed and delivered 4-H Afterschool programs in Clarinda, Essex, Shenandoah, and South Page. The programs supported safe, educational, and respectful learning environments. The staff led “Learn by Doing” projects that helped children reach their full potential.

The Clarinda Academy is a residential facility that provides treatment and shelter care to at-risk and delinquent youth from many states. Several girls asked the counselors about belonging to a club where they could learn more about their hobbies and also find new ones. With Debbie’s help, the Clarinda Academy began a 4-H club called the Lady Eagles. Community volunteers had workshops in sewing, baking, and photography. Besides participating in workshops, the girls also exhibited projects at the Page County Fair.

The Page County 4-H Program has always adapted to meet the changing interests of youth. For example in August 2010, a sixth-grade teacher in Essex asked Debbie to help her start a FIRST LEGO League club. FIRST LEGO League introduces students to real-world engineering challenges by building Lego-based robots to complete tasks on a playing surface. The theme for the challenge is different each year, allowing teams to learn about different subjects.

The Essex school supported the endeavor. The agriculture teacher built a frame for the mat needed to run the robots. The principal lined up buses and drivers for the youth to compete in Ashland, Nebraska, at the tournament. The Essex club placed 21 out of 58 teams! The teacher told the Page County Extension Council that the FIRST LEGO League attracted students who had never shown an interest in extracurricular activities, and they were already asking about next year’s challenge.

The Page County 4-H Program also expanded the concept of a Community Club. In 2010 and 2011, Debbie offered six-week clubs. The Move and Groove 4-H Club was held in Clarinda and Shenandoah and focused on reducing childhood obesity. The youth went on scavenger hunts on the Wabash Trace, played putt putt golf, and had Wii tournaments. The Kids 4-H Cooking Club was also held in Clarinda and Shenandoah. The youth learned about food safety, set a table properly, reviewed manners, and made delicious meals and desserts.

Debbie also spent much time and effort in organizing a 4-H Shooting Sports Leader Certification Workshop for southwest Iowa. 4-H Safety and Education in Shooting Sports (SESS) uses skills and disciplines of shooting to assist young people and their leaders in obtaining knowledge and developing life skills. After a rigorous training, the SESS leaders hosted an informational meeting in January 2011. More than 40 adults and youth came to learn about the program. In February, the youth started attending meetings in these disciplines: archery, rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader, and wildlife skills.

From children learning how to bake bread or pick seed corn in the early 1900s to today’s youth learning about robotics and shooting sports, the Page County 4-H Program remains dedicated to the ideal of 4-H, “to make the best better.” Through Community Clubs, School Enrichment, and Special Activities, the Page County 4-H Program “empowers youth to reach their full potential working and learning in partnership with caring adults.” Thank you Miss Jessie Field!


Page County Extension Youth Agents

Manning Howell

Rueben Berquist 1930-1931
George Smith 1931-1933
Fred Hick 1934-1935
Clifford Johnson 1935-1936
Lester Soukup 1937-1940
Merrill Anderson 1941
Merritt Canady 1941-1943
Russ BreDahl 1958-1962
Earl Mobley 1963-1965
Lynn Benson 1966-1970
Lisa Anderson* 1990
Jane Lantz* 1991-1992
*Shared employee with
Montgomery County


Page County 4-H Program Assistants & Youth Coordinators

Judy Davis

Mary Rezabech 1972-1974
Linda Dunbar 1974-1977
Shirley Wittmuss 1977-1979
Marleen Carmichael 1979-1981
Mary Sowards Wallin 1982-1985
Darla Schrader Brooke 1985-1987
Jane Lantz 1990-1991
Janelle Greever 1991-1992
Debbie Pirtle Swanson 1992-2019
Lexy Davies 2019 - present


Visit the Page County 4-H Website.

To make a donation to the Page County Endowment through the Iowa 4-H Foundation, click this button. Then select Page County in the far right column (My 4-H County) and complete the gift information. 

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Continue the Page County 4-H History and share your comments below.

09/06/2011 1:05 PM |Add a comment |Comments (1)
I have a photo of the East River MerryMaids 4-H Club girls in uniform dated 1928-29. The girls' names are identified on the back. Would you like a digital copy for your archives?

Janice Dockendorff | | 09/21/2016 7:27 PM
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