Hundreds of friends, volunteers and 4-Hers gathered at the Administration building in Juneau on Friday, June 27, to honor Sally Schoenike, a woman who served the Dodge County community as 4-H and Youth Development agent for University of Wisconsin-Extension for the last 32 years.
Amidst tears and laughter, folks remembered the many ways Schoenike touched their lives and the influence she had on so many young people as they went through the 4-H program in the county.
During the brief formal program in the middle of the four-hour gathering, Kim Pokomy, president-elect of the Dodge County 4-H Leaders Association, talked about how she influenced youth and adult volunteers, one person at a time.
Pokomy recalled meeting Schoenike for the first time when she was a 4-Her in Green County. Both were a part of the American Spirit Trip for Wisconsin 4-H youth.
Pokomy, whose three children are involved with Dodge County 4-H, said Schoenike had a way of knowing how to find the strengths in young people and get them to draw on those strengths and overcome obstacles. She commended her for finding a way to involve youth in activities that would help to build their confidence.
On behalf of the UW-Extension staff in Dodge County, Pattie Carroll, family living educator, said, "Everyone you have touched in your years of service has grown."
The staff presented Schoenike with a tree to symbolize the way she planted seeds of inspiration in youth who went on to grow and develop as a result of their 4-H experiences.
Sen. Scott Fitzgerald read and presented a proclamation from the state's legislature recognizing her years of service to youth of Wisconsin.
Officials from the state UW-Extension 4-H office commended her for her resourcefulness and her ability to establish partnerships with other organizations. Because of those partnerships, youth programs in Dodge County have continued to grow and thrive.
Others commended her for her smile and for the way she values individuals. Because of her ability to make each person feel needed, she inspired people to get involved as volunteers and to eagerly serve youth in the county.
Schoenike was a 4-Her in the Toland Troopers 4-H in her youth, so 4-H has always been a part of her life. During the years she was active in 4-H, the Dodge County 4-H program was led by Art Brehm who served in that position for 28 years.
Before joining the Extension staff in Dodge County, she was a business education teacher at Hartford Union High School.
Looking back, Schoenike says 4-H has changed and expanded over the years to meet the evolving needs of participants and the community. Changes have included adding a variety of summer day camps, community and school programs, 4-H after-school programs and others.
"The number of participants in the traditional 4-H program has decreased, but the number involved in community and non-traditional programs has increased," she said. "The programs offered today reach more than 5,000 youth annually."
The largest program that was added in Dodge County since Schoenike began her career was 4-H Family Learning Days and Project Day Camp, offered in winter months and developed by the Dodge County 4-H Leaders Board about 28 years ago. Those programs are still going strong today due to many 4-H and community volunteers.
The learning days provide opportunities for youth to learn a variety of skills and learn about different projects in 4-H. The programs have been so successful that they have been adopted in several other counties as well.
Dodge County also has one of the longest running Friends Helping Friends programs in the state.
"This program started over 25 years ago," Schoenike said. "It is a peer-mentoring program for youth and is offered through 4-H and in schools. Activities have changed, but the underlying principle of what we teach has remained the same."
Under Schonenike's leadership, 4-H has partnered with other organizations in the community including the Dodge County Farm Bureau, Dairy Promotion Committee and more.
"Not only has 4-H been a part of my life, but I was a part of its life," she said. "It was going on before me and will continue long after my retirement.
"I have enjoyed my career very much, and I hope we have made a difference in the lives of participants, both youth and adults. Dodge County has a tremendous bank of volunteers that build strength into the program. We are fortunate to have strong community partnerships, a supportive county board and UW-Extension staff."
In her retirement, she plans to stay involved as a 4-H volunteer. She also hopes to become more involved with the fair board. Her late husband, James Schoenike, had served as the fair association president. The couple has two daughters, Laura and Kari, and both share their parents' interest in 4-H, fairs and community service.