Past and present 4-H members gathered this weekend to share memories and celebrate 100 years of 4-H in Pennsylvania.
More than 100 people met at the Mahoning Valley Ambulance Association to mark the anniversary. Guests included members from the 1920s and 30s and beyond, as well as a number of current 4-H members and leaders.
"I'm thrilled with the turnout," said Georgia Farrow, the Carbon County 4-H agent in the Penn State extension office. "Not many things last for 100 years. A lot of the people here have fond memories, and it's really touched their lives."
She noted that many of the members involved have made life-long friends in 4-H.
"They still keep in contact with the people they met at camp."
When the Penn State extension office began organizing its anniversary celebration last year, Carbon County members decided to hold their own local event. Reunion committee members spent months gathering historical items, past 4-H projects and photos and contacted past and current members, inviting them to the event.
"4-H is a wonderful learning experience," said Kay Christman Gilbert, co-chair of the reunion committee, during her welcome speech. "4-H is all about learning and doing."
She said that Carbon County members have access to a variety of different 4-H projects, including gardening, rocketry, sewing and quilting, growing butterflies, horses, and raising livestock.
Gilbert shared a brief history of the 4-H program, both nationwide and in Pennsylvania. The national 4-H program was founded in 1902 by O.H. Benson, an Iowa school teacher who discovered that about 90 percent of farm children in the early 20th century planned to leave the farm after completing high school. To encourage their interest in agriculture, he provided produce and flower seeds to students to grow over the summer and presented awards to the students with the best results.
The 4-H program soon grew nationwide. Pennsylvania 4-H was founded in 1912, and Carbon County's 4-H program was founded in 1919. Carbon County is currently home to 150 4-H members and 40 adult leaders.
During the presentation, Gilbert noted that the first 4-H club in Pennsylvania held a corn-growing contest in 1912, with 14 boys and one girl taking part in the contest.
"Guess who won the contest?" she asked. "The girl!"
Current 4-H member Elyse Kistler, a senior at Lehighton Area High School, also spoke to offer her thoughts on the current 4-H program.
"4-H helped me to develop leadership skills, and gave me an opportunity to learn new things and explore different projects," said Kistler.
For her project this year, she designed and sewed her homecoming dress. She will be going to college next fall to study fashion and communications.
"If it weren't for 4-H, I don't know where my life would be," she added. "I probably wouldn't be as interested in fashion and sewing."
Gilbert then shared a letter from an 89-year-old former member, who told of her love of sewing and quilting that began in 4-H.
"4-H does have an impact on young people, and it tends to stay with them for life," said Gilbert. "We have a lot of great kids, and a lot of wonderful volunteers. I hope this continues for another 100 years."
Several local representatives were on site to mark the anniversary, including Carbon County Commissioners and state Rep. Doyle Heffley, who presented the group with a proclamation from the state House recognizing the anniversary.
Those gathered also recognized the oldest 4-H members and longest serving leaders in attendance. Oldest past members were John Gregory, 78, and Louise Reitz, 85. Longest serving leaders in attendance were Betty Gregory Henry, 54 years, and Robert Miller, 56 years.
The "Spirit of 4-H Award" was also presented to the Mahoning Valley Community Club to recognize their efforts over the past year to mark the 100th anniversary of 4-H in Pennsylvania. The group collected 100 items each month, including 100 used clothes items, 100 flower pots, and 100 cans each of nonperishable food items and pet food. Items were donated to needy members of the community.