Perspectives Online

A Century of Youth Development Excellence - ‘We Are 4-H’ celebrates the 100th birthday of North Carolina 4-H.


Attendees of the 2008 4-H State Congress posed for this picture in Carter-Finley Stadium to mark the beginning of a year-long celebration for the 4-H centennial birthday.
Photo by Mark Dearmon

It all began in 1909 in Hertford County with the first official “corn club.” That’s the year North Carolina A&M College (now N.C. State University) became the first land-grant college in the nation to enter into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct farm demonstrations — presentations of new agricultural techniques and ideas. The agreement specified that demonstrations were also to be presented to “organized clubs of farmers’ boys,” according to Memories of 4-H by L.R. Harrill.
We Are 4-H. 1909-2009 Centennial
From these beginnings, Harrill says “the 4-H movement” grew out of the corn clubs for boys and canning clubs for girls. But within a few years, the girls joined the boys in the corn and pig clubs and in 4-H events, showing off their best produce and animals.


Members of the 1909 first recognized corn club in North Carolina gathered in 1954 at the dedication of a historical marker commemorating their pioneering work. On hand were I. O. Schaub (second right), state corn club agent in 1909, and L. R. Harrill (right).
University Archives Photograph Collection, Special Collections Research Center, N.C. State University Libraries
Harrill was the first fulltime Extension agent for 4-H work, a role he began in Buncombe County in 1922. In 1926 he was named State 4-H Club Leader, a position he held till 1963. Known as “Mr. 4-H,” Harrill is among many luminaries in the history of 4-H leadership.

There’s I.O Schaub, the first state corn club agent, who advised that first Hertford County club in Ahoskie. And there is Jane S. McKimmon, who in 1911 began working with the girls’ canning clubs.

A Raleigh native and graduate of Peace College, McKimmon served as state director of the women’s division of the Farmers Institutes from 1908 to1911, when Schaub asked her to become North Carolina’s first state home demonstration agent (then one of only five in the nation). After retirement from home demonstration work in 1937, McKimmon served as assistant director of the N.C. Agricultural Extension Service (now Cooperative Extension) till 1946.

Harrill’s memoir provides archival images of Rosland Redfern, a pioneer 4-H Club agent in Anson County, teaching girls bread making in 1920, and of Wade Hendricks, Catawba County agent, in the1920s explaining dairy cow specifications to a group of 4-H’ers.


4-H’ers sing a centennial song at the 4-H Donors' Gala.
Photo by Becky Kirkland
There are photos, dating from 1914 to 1917, of youngsters traveling to Raleigh for short courses. These annual activities — interrupted for a time during the Depression, a polio epidemic and World War II — eventually evolved into State 4-H Club week and what is now the annual State 4-H Congress.

Harrill’s litany of milestones note that in 1926, N.C. A&T College in Greensboro (now N.C. A&T State University) hosted its first state 4-H short course; that in 1936, R.E. Jones was appointed the first fulltime 4-H leader to coordinate 4-H work with African-American youths; that in1929 Swannanoa, the first camp built by the Extension Service for attendance by 4-H members, opened in Buncombe County; that in 1949, 4-H members planted 1 million trees; that in 1959, the 4-H Development Fund was launched to support camping, recognition awards and scholarships.

These milestones mark the proud beginnings of 4-H, North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s youth development and education program. What began with corn, canning and livestock clubs and progressed to include public speaking, civic service, fashion design and Electric Congress has evolved to a 21st century program of biotechnology-based projects and curricula adapted for public and home-school use.


4-H pioneers I.O Schaub (left), L.R. Harrill and Jane McKimmon in 1951 with Progressive Farmer editor Clarence Poe (right).
University Archives Photograph Collection, Special Collections Research Center, N.C. State University Libraries
As Dr. Marshall Stewart, state 4-H leader, puts it, “From humble beginnings in northeastern North Carolina as corn-growing clubs, North Carolina 4-H has grown into the largest youth development program in the state. Today’s 4-H is a mirror image demographically of the youth living in North Carolina between the ages of 5 and 19.”

North Carolina 4-H, its agents and 23,000 volunteers now serve more than 239,000 young people.

It’s 2009, and North Carolina 4-H has launched a centennial celebration. “We are excited about the opportunity to celebrate our past and to position 4-H for the future,” says Stewart.

The North Carolina 4-H Centennial Celebration, “We Are 4-H,” is designed as a three-year (2008-2010) recognition of the 100th birthday of 4-H Youth Development in the state. With the celebration framed in 2008, 2009 will be a year of activities led by county leadership teams in coordination with statewide observances. In 2010, Extension’s 4-H family, the public and new partners will work to sustain the strengthened clubs, councils, volunteer associations and advisory systems. During the three years, the theme “We Are 4-H” and the logo will be integrated into all 4-H activities.


Volleyball at Millstone 4-H Camp in the 1940s.
University Archives Photograph Collection, Special Collections Research Center, N.C. State University Libraries
To help with planning centennial celebrations, 4-H created the N.C. 4-H Centennial Guide 2008-2010 — complete online with “Head, Heart, Hands and Health” programming suggestions, guiding principles, fund-raising opportunities, activity ideas and downloadable templates for adaptation by individual counties and groups.

Launching centennial observations in 2008 was the unveiling of the Centennial 4-H song “We Are 4-H (Tomorrow’s Song),” written especially for the occasion by John Hood, Mecklenburg County 4-H alumnus and winner of the 2008 4-H Lifetime Achievement Award. The song was introduced at the April 4-H Gala, sung by youth and adults from more than 20 counties.

Another major component of the centennial celebration will be the 2010 dedication of the North Carolina 4-H Museum and History Center at Millstone 4-H Center in Ellerbe. The museum will be located in the Ellis House, or “the house that peanuts built.” This historic edifice was built in 1939 with money raised through a peanut project by Cumberland County 4-H’er Rudolph Carl Ellis, to help his father build a home for his family. The Ellis family donated it to 4-H, and 4-H alumni and friends provided the funds to move the building to Millstone, where it will house the main collection of 4-H memories and history from every era.


In July 1941, 4-H’ers identify trees at Camp Whispering Pines.
University Archives Photograph Collection, Special Collections Research Center, N.C. State University Libraries
Among 2009 activities planned by the 4-H Alumni and Friends Association is the establishment of the N.C. 4-H Hall of Fame to recognize 4-H legends in the state, a process begun this past fall as the association began accepting nominations for the charter class to be inducted during the centennial year.

Along with the early 4-H leaders already mentioned, three likely nominees for the N.C. 4-H Hall of Fame are Dr. T. Carlton Blalock, who served as State 4-H Leader from 1964 to 1970; Fred Wagoner, retired 4-H camp specialist; and M. Edmund Aycock, long-time 4-H volunteer — all recent laureates of the National 4-H Hall of Fame.

An especially appealing commemorative activity is the selection of the North Carolina 4-H Centennial ice cream flavor. In an online survey, respondents voted for the winning ice cream out of the top 10 flavor names, including selections like “Centenimint,” “100 S’more Years,” “Clover Crunch” and “4-H Campfire Delight.” Finalists were selected by “4-H flavorologists” from among the more than 60 entries submitted by 4-H youths, volunteers, faculty and friends statewide.

Calls also went out for recipe submissions to North Carolina’s 4-H Centennial Cookbook, for pre-order of 4-H Centennial license plates, for “Color Me Green!” drawing contest entries, for N.C. 4-H Centennial postage stamp design contestants (see winner) and for purchase of “Century,” the 4-H Centennial bear.



Archery class at Camp Betsy-Jeff Penn in the ‘70s (top) and horseback riding at Sertoma in 2003 (bottom).
Top Photo: University Archives Photograph Collection, Special Collections Research Center, N.C. State University Libraries
Bottom Photo: Communication Services Archive
And of course, the county where it all started will mark the centennial with the 2009 Hertford County 4-H Celebration.

Perhaps the most ambitious project in observance of the 4-H Centennial is the preparation of a second edition of Clover All Over: North Carolina 4-H in Action, the history of North Carolina 4-H, by Dr. James W. Clark Jr., retired N.C. State professor of English and former director of the extension program in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

In the first edition, published in 1984, Clark traced the history of North Carolina 4-H from its beginnings to more than 20 years beyond what is covered in Harrill’s memoir. Clark says that the second edition of his 4-H history will be written with the same purpose, approach, style and content category as the first edition. “It is ceremonial and documentary history,” he says. “I will be improving the original text and adding 25 years of content.”

The working title for the second edition is Clover All Over: A Century of North Carolina 4-H in Action. “It will come out in 2010, a year after the actual centennial so that the celebration can be covered in the book,” Clark says. “The publisher will be selected by the 4-H Development Fund.”


4-H alumna Caitlin Boon (center) volunteers with Wake County 4-H'ers.
Photo by Sheri Thomas
Clark was himself an active 4-H’er as a youngster growing up in Warren County. “I attended UNC-CH on a national 4-H scholarship won as a 1960 national project winner in entomology,” he says. “I was tapped in the N.C. 4-H Honor Club the next year and served as president of that service organization when it celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1981.” His personal 4-H experience and his research into 4-H history give him special perspectives from which to comment on the major achievements in a century of 4-H.

Listing chronologically, he begins by crediting the success of the early clubs in rural communities between 1909 and 1920 “in magnetizing both boys and girls, black and white, to better farming and homemaking practices — and not always along expected gender lines; girls grew pigs, boys canned produce and made breads — so that their parents and professional extension agents of both races took the work seriously.”

Second, he notes the role of agricultural fairs in giving the club youth visibility and monetary rewards for their outstanding work. Third, he lists “the career of L.R. Harrill as State 4-H Leader from 1926-1963, with R.E. Jones of A&T State University as his peer after the mid-1930s”; fourth, the adoption of 4-H in all 100 counties by 1939; fifth, the mobilization of N.C. 4-H’ers during World War II to “feed fighters” and collect scrap metal and other items to be recycled in the war effort; and sixth, the national recognition of N.C. 4-H in the 1950s as the nation’s finest club network.


A young livestock show award winner in 2007.
Photo Courtesy Communications Services Archives
Clark next cites the significance, in the 1960s, of the integrating of the clubs at the community level when school-based 4-H was ended. Then he lauds the 4-H program’s “tremendous efforts to reach out for membership to underserved youth populations,” including those at risk, those with special needs (such as after-school care) and those with deployed military parents.

“The three signal banners under which the 4-H program in youth development now operates are citizenship, health and well-being and personal readiness for the global economy,” he says.

Among 4-H’s modern offerings, “the strength of the 4-H curriculum is reassuring,” Clark says. “Club members who are home-schooled rely on these materials.”

Moreover, he says, “Some schools welcome 4-H curricula into structured instructional programs in the North Carolina standard courses of study.”

As “the most drastic positive change” in 4-H history, Clark names “the evolution of both the N.C. Volunteer 4-H Leaders Association (1981) and the N.C. Extension 4-H Agents Association (1972).”

However, he finds that what has not changed is the program’s reliance upon academic skills — reading, writing — in carrying out 4-H projects and activities.


4-H curriculum projects are used in public and home schools
Photo by Becky Kirkland
Equally consistent, he says, is 4-H’s “determined adaptability to changes in society” and its “determination to mix work with play, as in rigorous cerebral competition and high-quality camping programs.”

Reflecting that adaptability to society’s changes are the 2009 statewide 4-H program objectives: healthy eating, physical activity and chronic disease reduction; preparing youth for an employable future and economic success; building community through volunteerism; building citizen leaders; developing life skills; and K-12 academic achievement and success.

The pursuit of these goals will be the stuff of the next century of 4-H. Its history will be recorded by those that succeed Harrill and Clark and, of course, by means of another 4-H tradition: The annual photography competition that culminates at 4-H Congress ensures the ongoing documentation of 4-H accomplishment, just as it has been in the photos on these pages.