CLEMSON — It’s not unusual at a family reunion to spend some time sprucing up great-granddaddy’s grave. But at an annual 4-H meeting?
“The only reason there is a 4-H club is because of a man who is buried on this campus,” Tom Dobbins, director of the Clemson University Extension Service, told members at the annual State 4-H Congress.
“Frank Lever’s vision more than 100 years ago is what led us here today,” Dobbins said of the South Carolina congressman, the Lever in the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, the landmark legislation that created the national Extension Service and the 4-H clubs it oversees. “He knew how bringing information from the university to the people would impact lives.
“I didn’t know how important 4-H was when I was in your seat. When I was a 4-H’er I didn’t realize all the opportunities I was given because of it,” he told the teens. “You’ve got a head start on me and I guarantee you you’ll continue to feel the impact of 4-H on your life from now on.”
The 57th annual gathering felt more like a family reunion than an annual meeting. It was in that spirit that 4-H’ers from across the state honored Lever’s vision by devoting a portion of their time at State 4-H Congress to provide a landscaped pathway to his grave in the historic Woodland Cemetery at Clemson.
Pledging their “hands to larger service” isn’t merely a formality for 4-H’ers. Public service is a way of life in 4-H.
No one knows that better than the outgoing leader, the 2018-2019 president of the state 4-H Teen Council, Garrett Ulmer of Colleton County.
“It’s taught me to be a better citizen,” Ulmer said. “There are so many opportunities in 4-H. There are so many leadership opportunities. It’s taken me all over the country.”
Ulmer’s 4-H legacy began with his great-grandparents, who sponsored the 4-H camp that his grandparents attended in their childhood. His mom, Karissa, is a district director for Extension in nine counties clustered in the southwest corner of the state.
“We don’t just have cows,” he said. “We have them, too, of course, but it’s so much more. It’s food. It’s engineering. It’s nature. If there’s something you’re into, you’ll find it in 4-H. It’s been such a part of my life I don’t know what I’m going to do without it.”
Kyle Greene, a Jasper County 4-H alumnus who now travels the country as an author and motivational speaker, reminded 4-H’ers that they’ll never be far from the experience they gained in 4-H clubs.
“4-H gave me a different perspective, a different way of looking at things,” Greene said. “Sometimes in life you’re gonna fail, but that doesn’t make you a failure. 4-H showed me that no matter what you go through, no matter what mistakes you make, you can still do the right thing.”
State 4-H Congress took some time out for educational workshops, as well, from livestock and technology to natural resources and healthy lifestyles, which included a healthy dollop of ice cream.
In an advanced leadership class, a “human bingo” game helped students learn creative ways to form relationships in a group setting checking off squares on a card by meeting people who fit particular descriptions: “is afraid of spiders,” “can roll their tongue” or “doesn’t like chocolate.”
“Leaders must create trustworthy relationships,” said class leader Rushawnda Olden, 4-H Pinckney Leadership Program director. “Leadership is ever-evolving. You have to be a learner to be a leader.”
Even the chairman of the state House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee brought practical, down-to-earth advice to the students. South Carolina Rep. David Hiott of Pickens County explained his “FIMO” principle for dealing with setbacks. “Forget It and Move On,” he said.
“Always have some humor in your life,” Hiott reminded the audience at the annual 4-H awards banquet. “And be humble. Society will never tell you this, but nice guys really do finish first.”
No annual meeting would be complete without awards. The 4-H Presidential Tray is a $2,000 educational scholarship designed to recognize the top four senior 4-H members who are National 4-H Congress and/or National 4-H Conference alumni and have outstanding accomplishments in 4-H leadership, citizenship and project work.
“The Presidential Tray is the highest honor that a South Carolina 4-H’er can achieve,” said Pam Ardern, state 4-H program leader. “It is the result of many years of dedication and hard work.”
2019 winners are Ian Adams of Charleston County, Garrett Ulmer of Colleton County, Morgan Marlett of Laurens County and Allie Trotter of Saluda County.
Four students were chosen to represent South Carolina at National 4-H Congress. They are Marie Elizabeth Grant of Anderson County, Cordell Rush of Saluda County, Charis Grabbe of Lancaster County and Isabella Birket of Kershaw County.
South Carolina 4-H state winners recognized for outstanding achievements in 4-H projects and activities are Arizona Bowers and Marie Elizabeth Grant of Anderson County, Jordan Snipes of Florence County, Katherine Ryan of Hampton County, Isabella Birket of Keshaw County, Charis Grabbe of Lancaster County, Julia Kerber of Laurens County, Loni McKenzie and Sianna Smith of Lexington County and Katelyn McCarter of York County.
Katie Glenn of Chester County received the Spirit of 4-H award, which recognizes a 4-H member’s commitment to the 4-H pledge: “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 club, my community, my country, and my world.”
Recognizing that essential role of volunteers providing the 4-H experience, the Glen Krohn Volunteer Award was bestowed to Bernie Till of Orangeburg County and Debbie Chapman of Florence County.
The youth development arm of the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service, South Carolina 4-H has more than 100,000 young participants from across the state.
In addition to traditional agriculture and animal projects, 4-H offers concentrations in Healthy Lifestyles, Leadership and Citizenship, Personal Development, Natural Resources and Science, Engineering and Technology. A partnership with the United States military enables special outreach to the children and youth of families that are impacted by global contingency operations, with special emphasis on the children and youth of National Guard and Reserve solders.
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