The 4-H building at the State Fair brings back memories – upstairs are the dormitories where we slept, that end is where our demonstrations (“how-to,” not politics) were scheduled, here are the clothing and canning entries and entomology entries. I still remember the thrill of winning a trip to the State Fair, on the strength of my demonstration skills – I think the topic was “Making Dairy Delights.”
When I was a kid, growing up on a farm near Litchfield, going to the State Fair was more a dream than an end-of-summer ritual. With ten kids in the family, money and time were both tight. Travel to “the Cities” was rare. The best route to the State Fair lay through winning a 4-H competition at the county fair level.
So I feel sympathy for the hundred or so 4-Hers sent home because of a flu outbreak, though their trips to the Cities and to the Fair are likely to be both more frequent and casual than mine in those long-ago days. Like us, they worked all year at projects, then polished (or brushed, bathed and trained) their entries to win the county fair competitions across the state. Like the Forest City Livewires, their clubs planned community service projects and parties and events, in addition to the individual, year-long projects.
Today’s 4-H includes Science, Engineering and Technology projects as well as raising sheep and bread-making. Banks of computers in the 4-H building challenge visitors with games. Even traditional clothing projects have changed, with traditional sewing/tailoring projects sharing space with “buy your outfit” exhibits.
What remains the same is the opportunity that 4-H offers for practicing the traditional values embodied in the pledge we recited at the beginning of each monthly meeting, now emblazoned on the wall at one end of the building:
“I pledge my Head to clearer thinking,
My Heart to greater loyalty,
My Hands to larger service,
And my Health to better living,
For my family, my club, my community, my country and the world.”