As a young adult, I spent 10 years actively involved in 4-H Clubs. The club I belonged to, and my Dad before me, and now, my little niece (she is a Cloverbud this year) is Enterprise 4-H Club in Mower County, Minnesota. The club is celebrating its 75 year anniversary this Sunday, so I wrote an article in honor of the event. I hope you enjoy it!
When I was 10 years old and working on 4-H projects to enter at the Mower County Fair, I dreamed of winning purple ribbons and if I was lucky, a trip to the Minnesota State Fair. I never imagined that the skills I learned in 4-H would be so vital to my present day career.
When I decided I wanted to move back to Southern Minnesota / Northern Iowa a few years ago to be nearer my family, I had been working as a property manager / leasing agent for a company that had 400 residential and commercial units in Victorian houses. Finding a similar job in a small town in a mostly agricultural area was an unrealistic probability.
My "big city" friends from Colorado Springs, who had always been impressed by my sewing and cooking skills – things I certainly didn't think of as marketable – suggested I take a look at those "everyday" abilities and think about ways that I could use them to create a job for myself.
My friends pointed out talents I had always taken for granted – food preparation, hospitality, sewing, home decorating, quilting, household management, leadership, and so on – skills practiced and perfected over the years in 4-H, and suggested that they were just the talents needed to own a bed and breakfast or country inn. My mind started to whirl with possibilities… perhaps my homemaking skills were not so "run of the mill" after all… perhaps they were a valuable commodity that I could use to earn a living.
As my dream began to take shape, I assembled a business prospectus complete with letters of recommendation, photographs, a business plan, objectives, goals, budgets, projected incomes and summaries. While I cannot honestly say that record keeping was one of my favorite 4-H tasks, I can look back now and say that the careful planning and documentation that are an important part of the 4-H program are something I'm very glad I had learned. These skills have proved invaluable at every job I've pursued. And people who remember how hard I worked to make my 4-H record book a "work of art" would not be surprised to know that my business presentation took "top honors" in the real world… financing from a local bank.
As my dream slowly became a reality I delved into a flurry of menu planning, experimenting with recipes, sewing window curtains and valances for dozen of windows, renovating, painting, floor planning, decorating, shopping for linens, dishes, fabrics, and furniture on a limited budget, preparing the house for state safety inspections, setting up the books for a new business, and on and on. Each task utilized at least one of the "taken for granted" 4-H skills I learned long ago at the Enterprise Schoolhouse on Highway 218, the 4-H Building at the Mower County Fair Grounds in Austin, or at my Aunt Shirley's house, where I learned to sew. (When she said "Rip it out and do it again, I listened… when my mother tried to tell me I needed to do the same, I argued…)
Even now, as I give tours or serve dinner at the Blue Belle Inn Bed and Breakfast in St. Ansgar, I am repeatedly asked if I have had formal training in interior design… where I attended chef's school… where I purchased my pillows and window coverings… and how I ever had the "know how" and confidence to undertake such a huge project. My response, to the surprise of many, is to credit 4-H. Each day as I set carefully manicured tables, prepare mouth-watering menus, creatively decorate rooms, speak to visiting groups, help lead cooking seminars, entertain guests on the piano, work on my bookkeeping, tell guests how to use our fireplaces and whirlpools, and work on promoting special events at the Inn, I am actively utilizing the very talents I learned at my Mom's kitchen table some 40 years ago. It might have seemed like fun and games back then, but now, I can see how preparing safety, photography, and home improvement projects for 4-H, giving demonstrations, and participating in the Share-the-Fun talent show, Fashion Revues, 4-H Radio Speaking Contest, Food Science exhibit, Favorite Food Show, and 4-H Carnival gave me the exact know-how I needed to do what I do today.
As I flip through my 4-H scrapbooks, filled with ribbons of many colors, recipes I still use today, fabric swatches from clothes sewed in unbelievably small sizes, and newspaper clippings galore, all with my name underlined… many images are evoked. I have many memories of friends and exciting events. I have a feeling of pride in myself, and a few butterflies in my stomach. I remember one or two special state fair trips, and even a couple of things that might qualify for "life's most embarrassing moments." Most of all, however, I feel thankful for my parents, uncles, aunts, grandmothers, and the many 4-H leaders and extension agents who took the time to praise and encourage my efforts, help me with projects, and teach me the varied "practical" skills that now comprise my livelihood. Who would have thought?