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Margaret's Musings: 4-H -- an experience worth exploring

Ahhhhh!!! It is county fair time. As a youngster, I couldn't wait until I was old enough to join 4-H -- back then you had to be 10 years old to join a club. Today's 4-H is much different with youngsters able to join as young as first grade. It still remains in my mind one of the premier youth organizations in the United States. Pardon me if I have written about it in the past.

I tried Girl Scouts but as a country girl, it was not for me. As a graduate member of 4-H, meaning I stayed active until I aged out at 18, the lessons learned were important, and each year I am reminded at fair time what a big role 4-H played in my youth and in my life.

We were fortunate. Our club was one of the oldest and largest in the state, with 100 members strong. Even though our general leader was a bachelor dairy farmer who could have come out of a Garrison Keillor script, he did a great job setting our club up for adventures that to this day I remember.

Due to our proximity to Chicago, we did any annual exchange with a city club - they came to the country for a day and we headed into Chi-town for a truly metropolitan experience.

For our part we basically showed the city kids where their food came from, traveling on hay wagons from farm to farm (dairy, beef, hog) and more. In the city we attended a White Sox game, toured the post office and museums, and stood on the roof of one of the terminal buildings at O'Hare field.

While those exchanges were fun, it was the real-life experiences 4-H gave us that made a difference in the long run. It was mandatory we learn how to speak in public to a large group. We learned to teach others as a junior leader, and if elected to club office, officers learned Robert's Rules of Order. In my case as treasurer, I learned how to balance a checkbook.

The projects we did taught us skills. Sewing -- this was before fancy machines -- probably honed my eye for my future as a photographer. To this day I can tell from a distance if something is out of kilter by the smallest of margins, probably from hours of straight stitching at exactly 5/8 of an inch from the fabric's edge.

Cooking was not a success story for me -- my yummy muffins were always full of tunnels, a bad sign.

Back then we didn't have a vast array of projects to pick from but we learned a lot: how to copper enamel, facts about forestry, and in animal projects (mine was horse), I learned animal husbandry and riding skills. One of my proudest moments was earning a compliment from a judge on the condition of my horse, whose healthy glow and soft, clean coat were the result of hours and hours of elbow grease I used brushing and bathing it.

We also learned how to walk and present ourselves in a pleasing way during dress review, when judges looked at how the clothing we made fit us. Oh, and did I mention most of the leaders were parents?

So summer was never boring, it was a kaleidoscope of experiences all leading up to the county fair, which in our case was Labor Day weekend.

Today, 4-H remains the mainstay of most county fairs. It gives 100,000 youngsters in Wisconsin alone a chance to learn valuable life skills and knowledge. With projects from aerospace to wind energy the sky is literally the limit for learning.

This weekend the St. Croix County Fair in Glenwood City will offer local 4-H members a chance to exhibit their work and animals. The Pierce County Fair is Aug. 13-16. Many 4-H members go on to exhibit as adults, continuing to hone their skills and enjoying the fun of competition as well.

So I will close with the 4-H Pledge and what each stands for.

"I pledge...

my Head to clearer thinking,

my Heart to greater loyalty,

my Hands to larger service,

my Health to better living.

For my Club, my community, my country, and my world."

HEAD stands for clearer thinking and decision-making. Knowledge that is useful throughout life.

HEART stands for greater loyalty, strong personal values, positive self concept, concern for others.

HANDS stands for larger service, workforce preparedness, useful skills, science and technology literacy.

HEALTH stands for better living, healthy lifestyles.