In fall 1953, the Hastings Tribune introduced its 4-H Club Awards Program with a flourish. An appearance by Gov. Robert Crosby was the highlight of that first year’s awards banquet at Hastings’ Clarke Hotel. Nominees, family members and county extension agents from across the Tribune’s sprawling coverage area joined university officials and other dignitaries in converging on Hastings for that celebration.
Now, 60 years later, I am proud to say this regional daily newspaper continues to stick by a program that raises up young people and the good things they do through 4-H in their home communities and beyond.
When I became the Tribune’s regional news editor in 1998, I inherited responsibility for the 4-H contest — now known as the Tribland 4-H Awards — from my predecessor, Darran Fowler, who had been promoted to news director. Now our editor and publisher, Fowler has remained a strong supporter of this program, which annually brings recognition to teenagers from one end of our region to the other.
In the intervening 16 years, I have worked with scores of young people and their parents, extension staff members, guest judges and others to keep the awards program moving ahead. It’s one of the highlights of my year, work-wise, and has allowed me to meet so many fantastic people — including the truly impresssive senior 4-H’ers who are nominated for these awards. I’m always edified by the experience.
The awards program does not draw as many nominees each year as it once did. That’s largely a reflection of changing times for young people, who today have so many opportunities and demands on their time as they get into their high school years.
With summer sports and camps, job responsibilities and other activities competing for their energy and attention, fewer teens continue to devote the time to 4-H through those years as once did. Still fewer take the time to document their work in the way that can lead to awards Good or bad, that’s just a fact — and it in no way diminishes the achievements of the youths who do continue to give 4-H their maximum effort.
Today offering programs in everything from archery to welding and from horsemanship to public speaking, 4-H encompasses so much that it has something to benefit virtually every youth who is willing to explore it.
Ten years ago at this time, as our Tribune 4-H contest reached its 50th anniversary, I was pleased to be able to track down and interview the very first king and queen — Marvin Swartz of Fairmont and Rochelle (Hesseltine) Brown of Austin, Texas. (Brown had been a Webster County 4-H’er from the Bladen area.)
At that time, both Swartz and Brown shared special memories of their selection for royal honors. I hope many of those who followed as king and queen over the next six decades — and now, Queen Amanda Slater of Clay Center and King Jay Kort of Ayr — have experienced their own feelings of pride and achievement upon being recognized.
Over years of reading nominees’ essays and record books, I have picked up on a few key themes. One is that young people value 4-H greatly — not only for what it teaches them about the technical aspects of, say, swine husbandry, cookie baking or some other project, but for the universal life lessons it provides on issues such as persistence, self-discipline, organization, hard work and sportsmanship.
The 4-H program represents an investment of time, resources and energy by school-age children and their families. The dividends paid on that investment are not so much ribbons, trophies or fair premiums, but the myriad ways 4-H helps young people grow into competent, caring, engaged citizens — and the opportunities it provides for them to make precious memories with their families and friends at an impressionable time of life.
In that respect, all 4-H’ers are winners, and all deserve our congratulations and our encouragement in their endeavors. The Tribland awards highlight just a few of the many ways in which the program can help turn today’s children into the adult leaders of tomorrow.