Clay County 4-H'ers learn life lessons The John Deere tractor of Tom Orr, Wakonda, belches a cloud of exhaust and kicks up dust during its run in the 2004 Clay County Fair's tractor pull Saturday night. The tractor pull was one of several new activities added to this year's fair to give more variety to the three-day event. by Randy Dockendorf Abby Ouellette had finished her beadwork project, but the 9-year-old girl hadn't yet finished her learning experience.
Dorthy Nothdurft, who was judging Clay County 4-H projects, sat across the table from Ouellette and asked questions about the necklace. The girl quietly responded, explaining her reasons for choosing the project and the steps she took to finish the process.
"I had to take my necklace apart and start all over. I didn't have enough beads, so it wouldn't fit around my neck," Ouellette said.
"If you hadn't done it right, you would have been left with a big bracelet," Extension educator Virginia Delvaux said with a chuckle and a sympathetic ear.
Nothdurft commended Ouellette for her perseverance and commitment to doing a good job. In the end, the first-year 4-H'er from Vermillion was rewarded for her hard work with a purple ribbon, the top placing which qualifies for the South Dakota State Fair.
Clay County 4-H'ers competed for honors Thursday through Saturday last week at the Vermillion fairgrounds. Besides the 4-H activities, the events included a barbecue, watermelon feed, tractor pull, demolition derby, teen dance and bands each night.
The 4-Hers learned lessons which last far past Achievement Days or State Fair, Nothdurft said.
"The most rewarding thing is to complete a project and use that skill to compete," she said. "The interview judging is the best experience for the child because you work with him on a one-on-one basis. That's better than just saying 'I got that ribbon.'"
Nothdurft said she speaks from experience when she talks about the impact of 4-H on a young person.
"I began working with 4-H when I was 10 years old. My mother was a club leader, and she taught us so many skills," she said. "It's tougher to do that today because the whole family is in the workforce. But you need to develop skills when you are young, and the value of the 4-H program is that it is a family affair. The children can't do
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it by themselves."
Because of today's hectic schedules, Clay County has used more "Project Days" where volunteers lead a two-hour workshop in an area of interest, Delvaux said. The events allow a focus on one project for a short period of time, she said.
"The 4-Hers come in and create something. They pay a small registration fee and then have something to take home," she said. "We usually have project days for areas like foods, horticulture and crafts."
After-school programs have also been started in a variety of areas such as rocketry, cats, dogs and shooting sports, she said.
Nothdurft said she tries to help each 4-H'er see a project as a learning experience. The junior-junior division allows competition as early as 6 years old, she said.
"I have been doing this for 25 years, so I have judged a bunch. You look at the age of each contestant and where they are capable of competing. You judge the development of the child," she said.
"There is a value you get from working with children. There is the reward that you see in their faces, and the ribbons make them feel so good about themselves. Their self-image is improved."
When she served as head of the South Dakota 4-H Leaders Association, Nothdurft said, 4-H received powerful testimony from a highly-placed and unexpected source.
"When Herman Solem was the state penitentiary warden, he talked to our State 4-H Leaders' convention and said he never had a record of an offender or anyone in the penitentiary who had been a 4-Her," Nothdurft said.
"Herman told us, 'You're doing something right. I wish our prisoners had been part of a 4-H program where they were working toward a goal. It would have given them self-confidence and made a definite impact on their lives.'"