Iowa 4-H vintage photos

Photos from the book “The Very Beginnings” tell the story of Iowan Jessie Field Shambaugh, the “Mother of 4-H.”

Janice Martins remembers her 4-H club name as a kid — the Woody Woodchucks.

“I didn’t think it was funny as a kid,” she says. “It was just the name of our club.”

That club doesn’t exist anymore. But there are countless 4-H clubs around the state and the country. Some have fun names. For example, Martins now lives in Buchanan County where there is a club named the Atom Bombers.

“I think it is the oldest club in the county,” she says. “I’m sure the people who named it thought of it as showing strength.”

Of course, many clubs are simply named after their townships or some other local lore. In Page County there are the East River Knotty Pines and the Fremont Farmers. In Hancock County there are the Garfield Sluggers. In Mahaska County there used to be a club called Scott-U-Need-Us. 4-H leaders in that county aren’t quite sure what led to that name.

“It’s all in fun,” says Iowa state 4-H program leader Debbie Nistler.

The fun still extends from the names to the actual clubs, where membership continues to grow and the mission continues to evolve.

Iowa has 8,027 youths participating in the Clover Kids program, which is aimed at children in grades K-3. That is a 7.1% increase in recent years. There are 26,333 enrolled in clubs aimed at older children, a number that has remained steady.

And over 160,000 youths were served by 4-H in some way during the last program year (Sept. 1, 2018, to Aug. 31, 2019). There were also 6,890 adult volunteers in the program last year, and another 1,843 who helped out on a limited basis (less than six hours).

All told, it is a picture of a program that is serving thousands of Iowa students, Nistler says.

For those unfamiliar with the program, the Clover Kids do a variety of activities that are shorter in duration while the older members align themselves with various project areas, such as livestock or STEM activities. The goal is often teaching leadership, responsibility and good citizenship more than it is in teaching a specific skill.

“We want to grow good citizens,” Nistler says.

Of course, it’s important to have fun along the way. And sometimes having a good club name is part of the fun. A native of Oregon who worked in 4-H in Florida before coming to Iowa last year, Nistler recognizes a good club name when she sees one. She remembers clubs such as the Creative Clovers and the Happy Hoppers or the Crazy Dogs.

Her own club as a kid in Oregon is still around as well.

“We were the Homesteaders,” she says proudly.

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Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.