Keokuk County, Iowa 4-H History

Iowa 4-H History By County

Keokuk County, Iowa 4-H History

 

"4 H is 100!"

(compiled for the Centennial of 4-H in 2002.)

This marks the hundredth year for 4 H.  Keokuk County played a strong role in 4-H becoming the successful youth organization it is today.  A file drawer in the Keokuk County Extension Office has clippings, brochures, letters, etc. verifying that Cap E. Miller, County School Superintendent, was responsible for youth programs known as 'Keokuk’s' Chautauqua’s, school fairs and youth participation, teacher's institutes, and finally becoming “4-H”.
Cap Miller County Superintendent of Schools was the driving force behind Keokuk County and much of Iowa and the United States involvement in the 4-H program.  One article said, "....reputation as a thinker of original things and the possessor     of an easy, graceful manner in telling them.......Mr. Miller is a slender fellow, but beneath his vest is a forty horse¬power dynamo from which is derived the energy he infuses into his work”.  When Miller was State School Superintendent another friend had this to say: "he was the most energetic and progressive County Superintendent I have known  and I have known many....his many accomplishments in the county were due to his progressive ideas and tireless energy with which he promoted them"   and this friend's letter also said..."Mr. Miller then Keokuk2arranged for the display of an educational exhibit at the What Cheer Fair   interested students prepared and exhibited collections of native woods, flowers, and rocks, as well as maps, drawings, etc.   next in point of time was the historical contest...organization of the clubs followed   first meeting held in Sigourney....there was a large attendance of boys and girls from all parts of the county... meetings thereafter held in conjunction with teacher's institutes and the Chautauqua"...Mr. Miller brought the Chautauqua to Sigourney   talent was the best the nation afforded   such names as "Uncle Henry" Wallace, Professor Holden of Ames, Dr. Winship of Boston   ambitions and intents of all the boys and girls were aroused as a result of the programs   teachers, and parents awoke to the necessity and importance of improved educational facilities and opportunities for the boys and girls in the country  I know that the boys and girls benefited, father did also.

Another article in the files was entitled, “City Man Helped Organize Forerunner of 4 H Group" The first paragraph said  "a half century ago when George H. Schwenke was a young Iowa school teacher, he had a hand in forming a young people's organization which some authorities say were direct forerunners of the present Day 4 H.”  This news item told of Schwenke's plans to attend this county's 50th anniversary celebration (1954) and that "he was one of 50 teachers, who, under direction of Cap E. Miller, County Superintendent of Schools, and Prof. Perry Holden of Iowa State College in Ames, helped organize the original Boy's Agriculture Clubs and Girl's Home Culture Clubs in Sigourney"some three years after these clubs were started, the clubs be¬gan to be known as 4 H clubs,    after the movement had spread to other counties in Iowa   Wright County, Iowa...claims credit far the 4 H name...".

The item told about Schwenke's looking forward to seeing friends at the 50th anniversary celebration persons he hadn't seen since teaching in this county. In this 1954 interview Schwenke told the reporter some interesting things about his early years of teaching and that at age 23, his third term and his first at old "No. 10" ....when in 1904 the first clubs were organized....this same year Schwenke instituted regular hot lunches at his school   the first in the area to do this   Schwenke also recalled listening to Prof. Perry Holden...known as the "Corn King"...and one of Holden's aides giving instruction in making a germination box and the best ears of corn for the test....and explained the process for testing and how boys could be contestants  noting that one of his boys was champion state fair corn raiser in 1905. Schwenke also recalled that the corn project gave an immense lift to the morale of the school and that his school girls wanted something to do also   thus with the help of their mothers, they began bread baking and fruit canning contests.

Schwenke also added that ..."in regard to his hot lunches and At the beginning,  his boys would hunt rabbits and they had plain rabbit stew for their hot lunch   soon mothers sent potatoes, carrots and other vegetables, plus tincups, knives and forks....and the reporter said that Schwenke would chuckle as he recalled these early teaching years and gave much credit to his being influenced by Cap E. Miller.

Pictures ( some identified, but many without any notation or identification) are scattered throughout the files of 4 H events and activities. Two that had captions on the back were especially interesting. One     was of the railroad depot at Ames. On the back of the picture was written, “it took 14 cars to carry the 1500 people who went on the first educational excursion in Iowa to the State Agriculture College (1904).  The following year, two days were set apart as educational excursion days for Keokuk County and two trains divided the crowd so that all were comfortable "(this caption was in Miller's handwriting).

A few copies of the "Keokuk County Chautauqua Institute" are among the material related to the beginning of 4 H in this county. The cover of a 1905 program for one of these events, had a picture of Wisconsin Governor Robert M. LaFollette, known as "Little Bob" He was featured speaker on the opening day of this ten day 'institute'.  Where this County Institute was held was a question when first looking at this     brochure. A paragraph in the program answered this... "in the good old summer time     Cap E. Miller has arranged to have a genuine County Institute...he has leased the grounds (20 Acres) of the Skillman farm, lying one half mile from town and proposes to give the teachers of Keokuk County and the citizens . .a big treat intellectually. . .the best talent in the county will be on the program. . ."

The article continued by explaining. . .". . its a new thing in Keokuk County, or in fact, any other county and Miller is receiving congratulations from a number of school men..    and the concluding paragraph had this:
"you want to get ready to rent a tent and camp right on the grounds and make a good week of it".

Other information found on other pages were interesting to read. In the section under "Conveniences" was..."groceries, provisions of all kinds, gasoline, ice and everything for the convenience and comfort of campers will be delivered each day. . . hacks will run to and from the city at short intervals. . "Telephone on the grounds will be at headquarters tent. . . messages will cost 5 cents. . . “Another section was "Rules and Regulations" and had information for: "...excursion rates on railroads" It was also interesting to read. .”One way rate to Sigourney is $2.25 or less"

Musicians were also on the daily programs. There was a picture of 'Jessie Weller' (a Sigourney native who had charge of all instrumental music   and it had a brief sketch of her music training.

Keokuk County is one of the founding counties for the National 4-H movement, and Cap Miller could very well be considered it’s founder, however a Wallace Farmer Article found in the files sums up how Miller thought about the founding of 4-H, “. . some might refer to the 1914 Smith Lever Act that provided federal aid for extension club work through county superintendents and that. . 4 H work started long before that. . The youth work that was to become known as "4 H" began at a grassroots level not from a single program, but from many.. ."
Andrea Wehr, of the Keokuk County Klovers 4-H club is putting together Keokuk Countys Centennial Display everyone is encouraged to look at it at Expo beginning July 18th.  Anyone with information or Artifacts is also encouraged to contact either Andrea or the Extension Office at 622-2680 or 800-515-2680.  The information in this article was taken from articles written by Hilda Souers long time 4-H supporter and area historian.

Visit the Keokuk County 4-H Website.

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

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10/03/2011 3:42 PM |Add a comment |Comments (2)
Comments
I was a long time Keokuk County 4-H member - a member of the Stick-To-It 4-H club. My parents, Paul and Winifred Wehr, gave me support and confidence in being an active 4-H'er in Keokuk County along with several great leader. I've carried my enthusiasm for 4H on to Linn County where I have continued to be involved with 4-H. The 4-H motto - "To make the best better" is still very appropriate today.

Marilyn Wehr Platner | map2947@aol.com | 10/08/2013 11:38 AM
A great story. Cap E. Miller should certainly be called The Father of 4-H.

Doris Goering | dorisg4uni2@aol.com | 10/20/2011 8:55 PM
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