This is one barn yard celebration for the books.
The Waterloo 4-H club hits the 100-year-old mark this year and will be celebrating it in traditional 4-H style on June 20. And as they should, being the longest running 4-H club in the province, and one of the oldest in the country.
And while the celebration is important for the whole region, it’s especially significant here in Elmira, where the first-ever meeting was held. Back in 1915 it was called the Boys and Girls Club, and 30 boys attended the inaugural meeting, where they started a poultry club. It evolved to 4-H, representing four personal development areas of focus: head, heart, hands and health.
Most of the people who were involved when the club began aren’t around to share their stories anymore, but 4-H has a way of staying in the family, meaning they left children and grandchildren to carry on the tradition. You don’t have to look far to see how 4-H has become a staple for so many families across the region.
It’s not uncommon for three generations to have gone through the same 4-H club, as evidenced by Sharon Grose who’s been involved since her childhood, along with her mother-in-law and now her own children.
“They were talking about it on the weekend, what does 4-H mean to you? It’s the friends and public speaking opportunities and the travel opportunities. I got to go on a 4-H exchange. My kids have gone on to leadership camp and to the national citizenship camp in Ottawa and one in the States,” Grose said.
And by Susan Martin, whose father, Clarence Diefenbaker, was a 4-H leader for 20 years. She has since followed in his footsteps, leading for nearly 15 years now, and passing on the tradition to her kids.
She also was nominated by one of the clubs she leads for the outstanding leader award and was chosen as the Ontario outstanding 4-H leader in 2006.
“Our goal when we lead a club is I want the kids to connect and make friendships and I want it to be a safe environment,” Martin said.
She notes it’s been a great addition to her kids’ resumes, with employers asking what clubs they’ve taken part in.
The celebration this weekend will give former and current 4-H members the chance to reminisce and reflect on how their lives have changed because of their involvement. And also, how tight knit the 4-H community is. Take Grose, for example, who competed against her future husband in a calf showing competition back in her youth, unbeknownst to them both.
Or Helen Martin, granddaughter of the Waterloo club’s founder Stanley Knapp, and a past-president herself. She now runs the Go for the Gold trivia competition, which tests 4-H members’ knowledge of a variety of different clubs.
“My grandpa was an agricultural rep from 1914 to 1924,” Helen Martin said. “During this time he organized and taught first one-month short courses in Elmira in 1915. And these short courses gave rise to the Waterloo County Junior Farmers Association.”
She followed in his and her parents’ footsteps, joining homemaking and agricultural clubs. She notes showing her calf at the annual competition was her favorite activity.
The club has nearly 300 members, with 6,000 members across Ontario. 4-H leader and 2013 4-H national volunteer of the year recipient, John Drummond says they’ve increased their membership locally by 100 people over the past five years.
“We are the longest running youth program in Ontario, so that’s something we’re celebrating. We’ve been around for 100 years and I’m so proud to be a part of the county where it started,” Drummond said.
The entire organization has seen plenty of changes, shifting from purely agriculture clubs to anything and everything that promotes leadership and community involvement. It started as a way to teach new agricultural methods to the next generation of farmers. But through the years it’s become a way to teach leadership skills to young people, through agricultural projects, environmental projects, cooking projects, health projects, and the list goes on.
“We’ve always been very innovative with the clubs that we run. I think they have great appeal to young people,” Drummond explained. “One of the clubs that we started six or seven years ago is a paintball 4-H club. It’s been extremely successful. Last year we had 86 members in the club. But I’ve never led a club that has more teenage boy appeal. It’s so successful at recruiting boys into 4-H.”
It’s also interesting to note they’ve got a large base of kids from urban areas, a significant difference since the start of the club. Drummond says it’s encouraging to play a role in agricultural awareness, drawing in kids through their Kitchener Farmers’ Market club on Saturdays.
Evan Woods started in with the grain club and the swine club. He later became the main auctioneer for the annual 4-H beef sale at the stockyards, and was an auctioneer there for 30 years. It was held there every other year, rotating with a competing livestock barn in Waterloo.
“The top price was $6.60 a pound and it was bought by a man named Archie MacRobbie, who owned Armac Transport. That was in 1988,” Woods recalls.
The same live calf would only fetch in the $2 to $3 per pound range nowadays, he says. Woods notes the commitment of local agriculture reps when it came to checking in on young 4-H members and their animals.
“I remember Sandy Forsyth so well, he was just an assistant agriculture rep then and he’d come out,” Woods said. “Where my plot was, was a long pace from the house and you couldn’t get there with a car. And Sandy was a big man but he walked all the way back, I thought he wouldn’t want to bother. It was a hot day.”
Sitting around the kitchen table, Diefenbaker also takes a trip down memory lane. He’s deeply tied to local agriculture, as he was the president of Holstein Canada for a time, and the coach of the winning 4-H livestock judging team in 1959.
“They had this thing called the calf race after the classes were all shown. You take your calf and run with the calf and see who would win. They run up the hill. And I was just a little guy back then and I was afraid my calf was going to run away on me,” Diefenbaker says with a laugh.
The 100th anniversary club has been preparing for this Saturday’s celebration for more than a year. In that time they’ve talked to lots of former and current members about their time in 4-H. Almost every one of them said learning parliamentary procedure, surprisingly enough, is what helped them the most.
“They take you through and actually pretend to be people in session,” Grose explained. “So they have a prime minister, and they meet all the MPs and they learn to network, and it’s a really wonderful opportunity. We open our clubs, we elect presidents, secretaries, treasurers, press reporters. That’s what you use when you’re out in the community.”
They’ve also come across some neat paraphernalia from decades ago, some of which will be on display.
“They don’t just keep their scrapbooks they keep the pillow they stitched. And one guy won silver dollars, he never spent them. He had them wrapped up perfect, there wasn’t a scratch on them,” Grose said.
Drummond adds they’ll have 4-H scrapbooks dating back to 1945, black and white pictures of 4-H members through the eras, old 4-H sweatshirts and t-shirts, and trophies.
“We did these 100th anniversary commemorative toy tractors, only 100 of them and they’ve all sold except for two,” Drummond said. “We held on to number one and number 100. And then we also have one of our 4-H members who’s incredibly artistic, who did a special 100th anniversary drawing. So the framed original is going to be auctioned off live.”
The Waterloo club is holding its 100th anniversary celebration on June 20 from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Steckle Heritage Homestead in Kitchener. Ontario Minister of Agriculture Jeff Leal will be on hand along with other dignitaries. There will be historical displays, silent and live auctions, popcorn and cotton candy; Go for the Gold, a tribute tree planting, a beef barbeque and a barn dance. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children seven to 12, and free for children six and under.
“I think all of us would tell you we are where we are today because of our involvement in 4-H,” Grose said. “4-H was a good stepping block. It planted a seed and it taught you an experience, and from there you could grow.”