Perhaps you noticed the welcome and goodbye signs as you visited the Johnson County 4-H and Agricultural Fair last week, or saw space for disabled friends and family members to watch a 4-H’er show livestock.
Those projects, along with remodeled restrooms, improved landscaping and a pre-fair party to drum up interest among could-be 4-H’ers are part of the work of 10-year members who join the Honors Group.
The Honors Group started in 2005, and as the fair closed this weekend, alumni gathered to reflect on their honor group legacy projects and how 4-H has influenced their lives.
“I’m on the fence about attending my 10-year high school reunion, but for me, this is the reunion that matters,” said Stacy Dixon, speaking on behalf of the inaugural Honors Group from 2005.
Dixon elaborated afterward that her 4-H involvement was a central ingredient to her personal development.
“I feel I learned the life lessons I needed through Johnson County 4-H,” she said. “I learned more about being a leader, about good communication skills and being part of a team through 4-H. That’s why it means so much for me to come back here today.”
The gathering of approximately 125 people, including fair board members, was a celebration of the program’s first 10 years. Honors is a club for 4-H members in their final year, with each year’s class charged with putting on a meaningful service project to proclaim their legacy for future 4-H’ers. 4-H Honors was founded 10 years ago by advisers Amy Kelsay and Max Fitzpatrick, who were later joined by Jennifer Townsend.
Both Kelsay and Fitzpatrick spoke emotionally about approximately half of the 162 alumni of the group being back for the event, Kelsay referring to “my kids” and Fitzpatrick talking about his appreciation for the parents of the group members.
“As you were working we saw your parents’ work with you in the background,” Fitzpatrick said.
The projects performed over the years ranged from general beautification of the fairgrounds to community youth outreach to various building projects, such as the construction of a shelter house by the 2010 group.
That year’s representative at the reunion, Mary Rodenhuis, said the project came together fairly late in the process.
“When it came time to tell the Fair Board what we wanted to do, I think we said something like ‘We don’t really know,’” Rodenhuis said. “I think Amy wanted to strangle us.”
The group more than made up for their slow start with their finish, however, raising more than $7,000 and putting together a group of volunteers to build the structure, which sits across from the east side of the sheep barn at the fairgrounds.
On Saturday, Kelsay called the project exceptional.
Rodenhuis said the reunion can serve an important role in maintaining a spirit of volunteerism with 4-H and particularly 4-H Honors.
“It’s a great time to always get together with your old friends and reminisce about the projects we’ve done,” she said. “But it also helps inflame a passion for the younger group to show them how we still support our projects and 4-H.”
Kelsay told the gathering that she tells each class to approach its project with the goal to “leave it better than you found it.”
As reunion participants filed out of the hall and posed for a group photo, Dixon said the turnout was a sign of 4-H’s continued strength in the area.
“There might be a few new 4-H clubs or new buildings around the fairgrounds, but the fundamental pieces are still the same,” she said. “For 10 years this group has been going strong and it’s not slowing down. I think we’ll be around for a while.”