It all began 100 years ago when in 1913, a volunteer leader, George T. Peabody organized a Boy’s Cotton Club in Chandler, Ariz., and soon thereafter 12 cotton, corn, and grain sorghum clubs were organized. Canning, swine, and poultry clubs followed in 1915. These boys’ and girls’ clubs became known as “4-H Clubs” in the early 1930s.  

From these humble beginnings, the concept of a youth development program founded on the values of strengthening the head, heart, hands and health of each and every member took hold and spread across the state. 4-H has been going strong in Arizona for 100 years, and has reached millions of children since it began under the direction of the University of Arizona. 

The Arizona 4-H Centennial Celebration was held in Maricopa, Ariz. on Oct. 12.  During the event the Arizona 4-H program inducted 76 individuals into the Arizona 4-H Hall of Fame.  The Hall of Fame honors 4-H volunteers, donors, former University of Arizona Extension professionals and staff employees, and others who have made a significant impact on the 4-H program by contributing their time, energy, financial resources, and other forms of generosity.  Inducted into the Hall of Fame from Cochise County were Margaret Bemis and Nathan Watkins from McNeal, Diane Bales from Cochise and Julia Johnson from San Simon.

Following the Centennial Celebration, the participants gathered to re-enact a large 4-H Clover that was last photographed in 1939, forming the pattern of a four-leafed clover, the national symbol of 4-H, with each leaf representing one of the four H’s. A photograph commemorates the moment and the commitment to education and youth development by the UA and 4-H participants since the founding of the state’s 4-H program.

“The mission of 4-H is to develop the next generation of leaders, scientists and innovators who are going to help this country solve problems that we don’t even know exist yet,” said Kirk Astroth, director of the Arizona 4-H Youth Development program. “Children involved in 4-H for more than two years are less likely to get involved with drugs and alcohol and more likely to get good grades and give back to their communities,” Astroth said. “4-H members pledge their head to clearer thinking, heart to greater loyalty, hands to larger service and health for better living.  Our program reaches 115,000 youth per year across the state.”

The youth development program started as a way to connect new agricultural technologies and higher education with country life by engaging children. Teaching children ages 5 to 19 skills from raising livestock to photography to building robots, the program has evolved and grown with the changing times and continues to provide valuable opportunities for youth from all backgrounds.

Many 4-H members go on to become key state leaders, Astroth added, and 4-H livestock sales at county fairs alone generate $4 million each year. “Arizona would not be the kind of livable place it is today without the influence of 4-H; 4-H projects create income and jobs and develop lifelong skills in members that help them become productive, contributing adults.” 

“The larger goal is to teach things like decision-making, problem-solving and responsibility,” Astroth said, “things that are going to serve these kids well through their whole lives.”

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