I was a first generation 4-H’er.
My parents grew up in the north-end of working-town St. Joseph, Missouri. My dad was a jock. He played competitive sports year-round, and spent his free time rounding up the neighborhood boys for a few innings on the sandlot. Weekends were spent on his grandparent’s farm in Kansas. 4-H simply wasn’t on his radar.
My mom, eager to escape a childhood riddled with painful memories, found security and stability in my dad. She wanted her own family, her own home. She wanted her turn at building a lifetime of happy memories. 4-H wasn’t on her radar, either.
They married at 19. My dad finished up college, wrapped up a college sports career, and five short years later, bought a farm and moved his wife and three – soon to be four – babes to an 80 acre paradise in northeast Kansas.
4-H was suddenly on their radar. A wholesome, fun, family-oriented experience perfect for a new-to-the-farm family.
I joined the Circle B 4-H Club. We bought a pen full of market hogs and picked up a Hereford bucket calf at the Atchison Sale Barn. I sewed a calico-print skirt with help from my Grandma, and made cookies and a craft project with my momma.
The summer of 1988 marked our first Doniphan County Fair.
This summer, while standing in the barn of the Ellsworth County Fair – looking over Noah and Tucker’s bucket calves – my Dad reminded me of why 4-H was just the right fit for our family.
On a sweltering evening at the market hog show, late July 1988, the competition was heating up in the swine showmanship class. At eight-years-old, I was oblivious to it all, trying to keep track of a fast-moving hog and wiping the sweat from my brow with a bristle brush intended for my pig. (Actually, I think my brother did that, but it adds a nice touch, doesn’t it?) The oldest daughter of a more-seasoned 4-H family and member of our club, was a show-woman to be reckoned with. She was in the running for Grand Champion, but when the judge passed her up and gave the nod to another showman, her mom threw a camera across the bleachers in disgust at the judge’s decision.
While the crowd looked on in disbelief, my dad stood under the eaves of the hog barn, smiled and thought to himself, “This 4-H thing is gonna be good.”
We went on to enjoy about 15 more summers of wholesome, fun, family-oriented county fairs. And 15 summers of heated competition in the show ring. There are boxes of trophies and ribbons filling closets at my parent’s house. And enough wonderful memories and treasured friendships for us to cherish forever.
The Circle B 4-H club boasted 40-plus members at its peak in the mid 90’s. We had solid exhibitors and competitors in nearly every project. We vied for the herdsmanship award every summer under the watchful eye of our club leaders. By the time my youngest sister, Molly, was in high school, there just weren’t enough kids left to keep the club going. Last fall – ten years later – my brother, and a number of the kids who were a part of the better days of Circle B, reinstated the club.
Our kids are now 4th generation Kansas 4-H’ers; thanks to a long 4-H legacy in the Goss and Dechant families participating in the Finney County 4-H Fair. As members of the Elkhorn 4-H Club – they're part of a group of hard-working, no frills kids who can have as much fun at a big city water park as they can in a barn. And a group of kids who pay attention to the youngest among them – this momma of young un’s loves that.
This 4-H thing is good for our family for reasons no different than the reasons my dad discovered many summers ago in that hog barn. It brings our family together through meaningful work. It allows our children to channel their interests and passions. It provides opportunities to lead; and to work as a team. And it puts our children into a nurturing, yet competitive, environment. Because after all, the world doesn’t give everyone a ribbon for just showing up.
I sometimes wonder if we’ve pushed our family into a 4-H and farm lifestyle because that’s where Brent and I are most comfortable. But when I see Noah blossoming in the show ring, Tucker tackling chores with a very grown-up sense of responsibility, Nell whispering to the chickens, and Britta hungry to just keep up with her siblings, my mind rests. The Goss and 4-H just go together.