Dodge County 4-Hers celebrated the centennial year of 4-H by hosting a box social for the county board Tuesday evening. Heads of county departments also took part in the event.
4-H members and leaders visited with county board supervisors while eating lunches served in boxes that the 4-Hers decorated earlier this year as a part of the Family Learning Day event.
The one-on-one conversations centered on things the youth have learned in 4-H. At the same time, the 4-Hers were able to learn more about the operations of the county board.
Russel Kottke, Dodge County board chair, and Jim Mielke, Dodge County administrator, welcomed the 4-Hers and their families. The board also provided the opportunity for the 4-Hers to lead the Pledge of Allegiance and the 4-H Pledge at the start of the formal meeting.
During the meeting, several 4-H alumni addressed the board, describing how 4-H influenced their lives.
Katie Dogs, a recent Alice in Dairyland finalist, spoke about the benefits of the 4-H philosophy of "learning by doing." She said her first project as a young 4-H member was sewing curtains for a Barbie Doll house. She later went on to sew prom dresses and bridesmaid dresses.
She added, however, that "It's not just those technical skills we learn in 4-H. It's things like leadership, life experiences, confidence and independence."
"4-H teaches life lessons," she said, reflecting on her competition at the county fair. "It teaches how to win with humility and that you can still take pride in a project well done, even when it doesn't win at the fair."
Regarding her current work with Didion Milling, she said, "Our company's motto is continuous improvement. 4-H calls it 'Make the Best Better.'"
John Mersch described the benefits of 4-H involvement for four generations. He was in the Leipsic 4-H club where his parents were leaders. His wife, Jean, was in what was then the Trenton Hustlers 4-H Club, and her mother was a member of that club when 4-H was in its infancy.
John and Jean met when both were involved with the county 4-H Junior Leader group. They married 47 years ago, and their children and now grandchildren were also active in 4-H.
"All five in my family were in 4-H," John said, "and of the five of us, three married someone they met through 4-H and carried on the 4-H tradition."
Nancy Zieman, known for her "Sewing with Nancy" television program and for the successful business she built known as "Nancy's Notions," credits her success in life to her early 4-H experiences.
She was unable to attend Tuesday evening's event, but Karen Schmidt, a relative and fellow sewing and 4-H enthusiast, relayed her story.
Whitney Rathke, a 4-H alumnus who grew up in a four-generation 4-H family in Ozaukee County, talked about how 4-H encourages youth to speak out in public and hold offices. A recent finalist in the state Alice in Dairyland competition, she said 4-H had a big impact on her life.
Through 4-H, Rathke was always encouraged to think harder, dig deeper and make things better. Regarding fair competition, she said she learned that receiving second place does not mean you are the first loser, but the first learner.
She has been involved with Dodge County 4-H for the last five years, either as a VISTA youth worker or as the 4-H summer agent. Her goal is to become a UW Extension 4-H youth and development agent.
Rathke pointed to the design on the T-shirts sported by the youth attending the event. She said the branches on the tree are symbolic of the growing that takes place in 4-H. Personally, she said those branches are beginning to produce fruit as she moves away from her own 4-H membership and into the world.
Madaline McGauley, a 4-H member who is currently president of the Leipsic 4-H, said as a new family in the community, 4-H helped her become acquainted in the area.
"4-H helped me become more outgoing," she said. "Trips and conferences helped me learn how to talk with people I didn't know."
Regarding the trips, she described the process for selection for trip participation and said it benefits youth both by learning how to fill out an application and then going through the interview process.
All the youth participating in the event emphasized learning about the importance of community involvement and giving back to the community. Most of Dodge County's 4-H clubs stress community service among their activities. The 4-H alum said these lessons are important and become more important to them as they get older and move out into the world.
Following the 4-Her's presentations, several county board supervisors shared stories about 4-H involvement and the benefits they found through 4-H.
When the county board meeting concluded, 4-Hers were again on hand to serve ice cream to the supervisors and share more stories about 4-H.