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Fifty years of 4-H

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It takes a great program to keep people coming back for decades — for two Nebraska women, that program is 4-H.

Leaning on the 4-H days of their youth, Barb Shane and Linda Olson became 4-H leaders together in 1992, when their children attended the same preschool. Still leading the Brush Creek 4-H Club in Atkinson, Neb., together to this day, these lifelong friends are now overseeing yet another generation of 4-H’ers, and sharing how the organization changed their lives through three generations.

“Hard work, working together, and new experiences are great life skills that are rewarded in the end,” said Shane, whose passion for 4-H began in 1967 — her first year as a member. “Having the 4-H career on your resume is always a good thing. 4-H is still a great organization to create future leaders and speakers for agriculture and sciences. Now it has a bigger enrollment of urban kids and includes almost any project you can think of.”

Reflecting back to her childhood days in 4-H from 1972-73, Olson said she felt a mainstay of the organization continues to be teaching the value of hard work and responsibility.

“When our kids, and now our grandkids, had animal projects, they didn’t come inside to eat until their animals were fed,” Olson said. “People always commented on how responsible my kids — and now my grandkids — are.”

Over the years, Shane and Olson found their team leader groove, with Shane overseeing livestock projects, and Olson handling paperwork, agendas and club projects. Though the club has seen many changes over the years, such as enrollment and entries handled entirely online, the pair said traditions are still the backbone of Brush Creek, which is one of the oldest and largest 4-H clubs in Holt County, in northern Nebraska.

“We’ve tried to continue the traditional 4-H model with regular meetings and committees, using parliamentary procedure, and the youth take on leadership roles within the club,” Olson said. “Everything is computerized, which is supposed to make it easier, but I don’t know if it has with so many deadlines now that members must meet. It can get frustrating and confusing, especially for new families.”

Numerous projects, including the new geocaching, are a big draw.

“I’ve always appreciated that my kids could all go to the same meeting, but each could take projects that were of interest to them,” Olson relayed.

Her oldest son, James, enjoyed beef and sheep projects, son Ben liked woodworking and rocketry projects, daughter Beth delighted in new home environment projects, and son Kent participated in several projects.

Whether it’s being with family, or the sense of being at home in the right place, 4-H builds self-esteem by teaching children to take pride in their work, meeting new friends, and opportunities to try new activities and projects.

“When I was nine years old, I remember learning to sew in 4-H,” Olson said. “It gave me a chance to learn a new skill and work one-on-one with my mom. As a parent, you can tell your kids they are wonderful, but 4-H helps prove it to themselves.

“There’s nothing like working hard on a project, but then having a judge tell you that you did a good job, receiving the recognition of a ribbon and your project on display.”

4-H helps children thrive, and strengthens them at the core.

“Whether doing road cleanup, volunteering at nursing homes, or cleaning up fairgrounds and trying to instill a sense of community and volunteering, to see kids do well at fair, which gave them great pride and accomplishment, is always rewarding for me,” said Shane, who fondly remembers the fair being a big event of the summer. “It was in the same county (Holt) that I have lived here my whole life. I met my husband at the county fair. Besides carnivals and food stands, there were lots of neighbors and friends we hadn’t seen since we were busy haying — unlike today where there are hundreds of events to go to all summer long.”

Shane and Olson are proud of Brush Creek’s heritage.

“We’ve received many awards,” Shane said. “Our club works in the community to better our town.” They also assist the fair board with upkeep of the fairgrounds.

“4-H is not an activity that you drop your kids off, then come back and pick them up an hour later,” Olson said. “4-H gives families a chance to work side-by-side.”

She added that her family’s summer vacation was always attending the county fair, and now her 15-year old grandson, Luke, enjoys showing beef every year.

“Luke has also done woodworking, wildlife projects, cooking, Favorite Food Fare, and this past year he sewed a quilt for the ‘Quilts of Valor’ project (quilts specially made to ‘cover and comfort’ military veterans touched by war),” she said.

4-H experiences prove that a little encouragement and feeling of pride are life-changers.

“Many of our club members go on to be great members of our community and country,” Shane said.

Amy Hadachek can be reached at