Fifth-generation 4-Hers share experiences


The roots of 4-H run deep in Wyoming--five generations deep.

Families like the Shanes of Niobrara County, the Moodys of Platte, the Fears of Sublette and the Eckhardts of Washakie represent hundreds of years of 4-H stretching from the 1920s to the present. Stories such as theirs are being celebrated as the state joins the national recognition of the 100th birthday of 4-H, the youth education program of the University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service (UW CES).

"Every one of them will tell you that the experience has been fantastic," said Carmen Tyrrel Shane, Node, describing the life-long 4-H experiences of her relatives. Stories of families like hers were re-created on posters and in notebooks, in a special "Generations of 4-Hers" display, at the 2002 state fair. The recognition continues with the approach of the Oct. 6 to 12 National 4-H Week. "We have had a wonderful time over the years."

Shane's grandmother, Josie Tyrrel, was a 4-H leader in the 1920s. Her father, Gene, raised livestock in 4-H and later became a leader. "I remember him telling stories," she recalled. "They had flatbeds with panels around them, and the kids rode on the trucks with their animals." Shane became a leader after participating in 4-H for nine years with her brother Claude and sisters Karen and Susan, in the Up and Coming 4-H Club, in Niobrara County.

Her husband Jimmy's parents, Jim and Irene Shane, and he and his siblings were members and leaders. He has a brother-in-law who was a member of one of the first 4-H clubs, in a county in Nebraska. The legacy has spread to the offspring of Jimmy's siblings, Bonnie and Patty, and to the youngsters in the fifth generation. Carmen and Jimmy's two daughters, JoAnn and Brenda, also have been active. Brenda has served as a leader for her daughter.

The Tyrrels and Shanes have excelled in sewing and livestock as 4-Hers and leaders for some 80 years, attending national competitions and helping their communities. The program has led many of them into ranching careers. "It has been a good program for both of our families," Carmen Shane said. "When our kids were small, that was our social life." She praises the public speaking experience her family has gained through 4-H involvement. "We have some shy kids in our family. It brings out their personalities and gives them confidence. It is important to be responsible for your actions and to have to think on your feet. You don't have to agree with everybody, but you have to be able to stand up and support your views."

She also compliments 4-H for its family orientation and says the older generations always are on hand at the fairgrounds to support the younger generations of her family. "It has been a wonderful program for us. We wouldn't trade any of it."

Platte County's Moody family of Wheatland offers similar accolades. "I think 4-H is just a great thing. It teaches so much about responsibility," said Janet Carey Moody. Her 4-H heritage began with her parents, John and Helen Carey, and her in-laws, Dale and Nellie Moody, all of whom were involved with the program. Her husband worked with youths in a tractor club. She made the transition from 4-Her to leader of the Eversharp group, also serving as an officer in the leaders' council. She still helps to judge record books.

"I remember one time for the fair parade, we took a wagon flat cart and built a loaf of bread out of some chicken wire," she recalled of her membership in the Baker's Dozen 4-H Club. "We used dyed napkins in the wire and pushed that thing down through town. After we got the display home, we took it all apart and I put some of it in a scrapbook for my kids."

Her children, Cindy, Mary Lynn and Rick, competed in national 4-H and have gone on to promote the experience for their children. The youngest generation is learning about gardening, woodworking, wildlife, shooting sports, photography, food and nutrition, child development, visual arts, electricity, leathercraft, dogs, petroleum power and automotive skills. "They are proud of what they do and what they accomplish," Moody said. "To me, 4-H is just great."

Mardell Fear, Big Piney, in Sublette County, discovered 4-H leadership when her mother, Inez Bennett, took a part-time job in the 1930s and needed a fill-in leader for the small group of girls she was teaching to sew. She remembers that her seven little charges each made a pin cushion, a tea towel, a pillowcase and a plain kitchen apron.

Now 81 and an accomplished seamstress, Fear still is involved with 4-H, along with her four children, 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Many of her grandchildren have paid for their educations, at the University of Wyoming, with the money they earned through their livestock sales. One earned a national 4-H scholarship. There are family cabinets full of ribbons and trophies.

Her daughters, Deanne, Lynda and Melodie, she said, "grew up attached to 4-H" and went on to become involved in state, regional and national 4-H activities, while still serving the Dandies and Barnyard Bunch 4-H clubs. Her daughter, Melodie, was named 4-H Leader of the Year, in New Mexico, and one of Melodie's daughters won a national award for her essay, "4-H Was in the Family Blood."

Fear says 4-H has been her career. "We have really taken an interest in 4-H. I think it has helped us to meet the public and to become better citizens."

Seventy-six-year-old Vera Eckhardt, Worland, hopes the history and legacy of 4-H will be preserved. "Kids are different now. They don't have as much time for 4-H as we did," she said. "For us, 4-H was the thing to do, because we didn't have lots of other things with living in the country."

Her family is doing its job to keep 4-H alive. Eckhardt's mother, Dorothy Hinkle, started her 50-year tenure as a 4-H leader in the 1930s, in Thermopolis, and was the first state council historian. Her involvement began in 1936, with the South Flat Juniors 4-H Club and continues today. Her daughters, Tammy, Val, Diana and Deany, became leaders after winning scholarships and national trips as youths. Eckhardt has served as 4-H leader for most of her 17 grandchildren and her great-grandaughter, Stevie Eaves, 11, is in her South Flat group.

Eckhardt says she has enjoyed watching children "blossom" through 4-H and move on to careers boosted by the skills they garnered as participants. "My basement is 4-H history--it is all over the place!" she said of her efforts to preserve the heritage of 4-H for future generations. She hopes they will "do 4-H" and benefit as she has all of her life.

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