Bob’s looking over a four-leafed clover

Bob's looking over a four-leafed clover By Bob Karolevitz This is the time of the year when the 4-H cloverleaf appears in hundreds of special newspaper sections across the land.

Literally thousands of youngsters have shampooed lambs, baked banana bread, endlessly rehearsed their demonstrations, wrestled steers and unruly pigs, vaselined chicken wattles and put finishing touches on projects large and small � all in quest of that vaunted purple ribbon at the fair.

It's common knowledge that the four H's stand for Head, Heart, Hands and Health, but not many of the eager participants know how it all came about. I didn't either until Phyllis and I stumbled onto a black-and-white wooden marker at Clarinda, IA, which told us all about it.

Each June we go to that Page County town to overdose on '40s music at the annual Glenn Miller Birthplace Society festival. This year � when we weren't listening to concerts by Bill Baker's Big Band from Rijswijk, Holland; the U. S. Air Force Airmen of Note, plus strings and the Singing Sergeants; the 39-piece Tamana High School girls' band from Japan; and other performers who brought back fond memories to a gray-haired crowd � we wandered about to see what else the area had to offer.

That's when we came upon the historic plaque which informed us that Jessie Field � sister of Henry Field, the noted nursery-man � was really "the mother of 4-H."

Born at Shenandoah, IA, on June 26, 1881, Celestia Josephine "Jessie" Field became a teacher at the rural Goldenrod School in Fremont Township near Clarinda in 1901. However, the 20-year-old pedagogue was not satisfied with a curriculum which taught just reading, writing and arithmetic.

She developed lessons in basic farming for the boys and homemaking for the girls to help build self-confidence and to keep them interested in attending school. She would meet with them before and after regular classes to assist them with their projects.

In 1903 � when she was still a young woman � she was elected Page County's superintendent of schools. At that time there were 130 rural schools under her jurisdiction, and she used her new position to expand her idea to all of them.

With her direction, her teachers formed Boys Corn Clubs and Girls Home Clubs, and an emblem featuring a three-leaf clover was adopted and given to each student who participated in the program.

Each leaf contained a capital H standing for Head, Heart and Hands. In the beginning they were just 3-H clubs.

By 1908 when the Page County rural schools were acclaimed the best in America by a national educational group, superintendents from all over the country came to Iowa to see what Jessie Field's idea had wrought. That's how the concept spread. An additional leaf with an H representing Health was eventually added.

Goldenrod School has since been listed on the National Register of Historic Places as "the birthplace of 4-H." The founder married and became Jessie Field Shambaugh. As such she was national YMCA secretary for rural work. At age 90 she suffered a hip fracture and developed pneumonia, dying in 1971. She was buried in Clarinda.

The marker at the Nodaway Valley Historical Museum lauds her for having pioneered "one of the greatest youth movements of modern times."

As parents of two girls who won purple ribbons at Achievement Days and the State Fair, we were once part of that movement. Facetiously I wrote that, in our case, the four H's stood for Hysteria, Hypertension, Hernia and Heartburn (not necessarily in that order).

But we survived, and � despite the annual trauma of watching our young gals prepare for the yearly competition � Phyllis and I were glad that Jessie Field's idea was even bigger and better in our lifetime.

Now � as Paul Harvey says � you know the rest of the story!

© 2000 Robert F. Karolevitz

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