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The 4-H Forumula for living remembered

“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.”

I learned this pledge 70 years ago as a new 4-H Club member. I was 12 and a freshman in high school when I joined the Mt. Vernon Township Pals 4-H Club in Black Hawk County, Iowa. For the next five years I was actively involved in everything this great organization offered to farm youth in the 1940s.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Jo Ann Parsons in her 4-H uniform, circa 1946.

Keeping records was a prime 4-H requirement. We were encouraged to keep detailed records of our projects and activities, then compile them into a Long-Time Record Book to be judged at the county and state fairs. Mine is still intact and while it doesn’t compare to scrapbooking projects of today, it’s quite creative for that time. Reliving my 4-H years through the pages of this book makes me value the skills I acquired.

Dedicated leaders contributed to my 4-H experience. Gladys Wood had been my teacher in the one-room country school I attended and after its closure she became the girls’ 4-H leader. Florence Henry was her assistant and their husbands, Jim and Stuart, led the Mt. Vernon Township Pioneers boys’ 4-H. The couples were neighbors and neither had children of their own so we became their family and the beneficiaries of their excellent and devoted leadership.

There were designated projects each year: Clothing, Food Preservation, Oven Products and Home Furnishings. These were war years so, in addition to our projects, we participated in the 4-H Victory Army, planting and tending gardens, buying and selling war bonds and stamps, helping with paper and scrap metal drives and baking cookies for the servicemen’s canteen.

Clothing projects were challenging for me — and also for my mother, who was not an accomplished seamstress. Most farm mothers stitched up frilly frocks for their young daughters; mine saved her egg money to buy me Shirley Temple dresses. So the mother of Jeri, my best friend and across-the-road neighbor, became our mentor. She helped Jeri and I master the treadle sewing machine and created patterns for us from the latest fashions in Seventeen Magazine.

This was the era of printed feed sacks and Jeri and I made trips to the mill with our dads to get chicken feed as we didn’t trust their random selection of prints and colors. As soon as the sacks were emptied, washed and ironed, we were ready to cut and sew. We proudly modeled our creations for mothers and friends at Achievement Day.

The year of Food Preservation found me spending hot steamy days in the kitchen while my mother passed on her knowledge of canning. In previous years I’d remove myself from this scene, saddle up my horse, Smoky, and go for a long ride hoping all would be done when I returned. But that summer was a hands-on learning experience and I was my mother’s hostage.

Oven Products proved more interesting for Jeri and me as we were chosen as our club’s demonstration team. For reasons I don’t recall, we decided to demonstrate making Swedish Tea Rings and titled it “For a Snack with a Zing, Serve a Swedish Tea Ring.” Hours spent memorizing our script and perfecting the steps of preparation resulted in winning second place at the county fair against stiff competition of a dozen other teams. Our prize was $8 in war stamps.

The two years of Home Furnishings were my favorites and I undertook ambitious projects including refinishing furniture, sewing drapes and slipcovers — and won several blue ribbons.

At June Rally Day in 1946, I was elected county president. This was a coveted honor but came with many responsibilities — meeting with the county home economist, planning countywide events, working at the fair, serving on the camp council, doing radio interviews and speaking at programs. I was a delegate to state convention at Iowa State College (now University) in Ames, Iowa where I gave the campaign speech for a club member running for state office. Later I gave reports of the convention to other clubs and farm bureau groups. It was a busy summer.

The highlight of the 4-H year was a fall banquet at the prestigious Elks Club in Waterloo where I and the county boys’ president were Mistress and Master of Ceremonies. It was a dress-up affair attended by hundreds of 4-Hers and prominent community supporters. This event plus roller skating parties and holiday dances provided fun socializing.

Lasting friendships were made during my 4-H years. I still hear from Jeri and Theresa, two of the pals, and I kept in touch with Mrs. Wood who lived into her 90s.

I know the organization has changed through the years but I hope the 4-H pledge is still being learned and lived by all its members. It proved to be a good formula for my life.

Jo Ann Parsons is a member of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.



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