CHARLESTON -- Even though no 4-H club is exactly the same, they all have the same goal -- to prepare future leaders.
Marilyn Williams has helped mold Mississippi County leaders of the past, present and future for nearly 31 years. It's seeing the looks on the youths' faces as they participate in 4-H activities that makes her love her job as Mississippi County Extension youth education assistant.
"In my 31 years with 4-H, 55 members have completed college and hold a degree of some sort. That's the biggest reward I could ask for," Williams said.
Throughout this year, the national organization has celebrated 100 years of existence. The Mississippi County 4-H will hold their celebration from 10 a.m. to noon on Oct. 12 at the library in Charleston. U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson is slated to be a guest speaker at the event, as well as U.S. Rep. Lanie Black III. Refreshments will be provided and the public is welcome to attend.
A gala dinner and fund raiser commemorating the 100 years of 4-H will also be held Oct. 12 at Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis. Missouri legislators have even approved creation of a 4-H automobile license plate, due out later this year, in recognition of the 100 years of service to the state's youth.
Mississippi County has 12 clubs and nearly 80 members. Williams said she has noticed a decline in membership over the last couple years.
"We used to have between 200 and 250 members. I think a lot of the reason membership is lower is because some of the families don't have the funds to pay for dues," Williams said.
Some of the families may have as many as four or five children so they are unable to pay for everyone's dues, Williams explained. The dues are small but with four or five people, the money adds up.
Aretha Robinson has lived a 4-H member's life to the fullest. She's had several different experiences since joining the club when she was 9 years old in 1949. She was awarded the 4-H queen title during the Missouri Citizenship Workshop in Jefferson City in the early 1950s. Her older sister was one of the first 4-Hers to win a spot to the National 4-H Congress.
"It was really good for me," Robinson said. "I learned about canning and food preservatives. We lived on a farm and raised a lot of our food so it really came in handy."
Robinson's husband Jim Robinson Jr. joined the club in 1943 while living in Tennessee. Robinson and his family brought the ethics of 4-H with them to Missouri.
In 1960, the Robinsons became 4-H leaders and volunteered throughout the years by starting the 4-H club, Youth Take Action in Pinhook. Jim Robinson specialized in teaching skills in carpentry, farming, livestock, mechanics and electrical work. He led the Youth Take Action in building a pavilion in the community and planting trees for local farmers and businesses of East Prairie.
Aretha Robinson taught 4-H classes in cooking, gardening, food preservation, fund raising, crafts and sewing. Although sewing isn't Robinson's favorite activity, she did learn it through 4-H and is glad she did.
"I always hated to sew," Robinson laughed. "I learned how to make dresses and skirts. My daughter was always great at that. I liked cooking and canning. That was my favorite."
Eventually the organization reached the whole family. Jim and Aretha Robinson Jr., their eight children and a few of their 15 grandchildren are all involved in 4-H.
"I've enjoyed every minute of it. All of the kids learn a lot about respect and getting along with others," Robinson said.
A variety of activities are available for those who join 4-H. Some of these activities include: cooking, photography, art, horsemanship, computer, etc. Members also participate in community service projects, attend county fairs, camps, club parties and take trips to other states.
One of the trips Mississippi County 4-H has made annually is to a fair in Memphis. "We would take two buses to the fair in Memphis," Robinson recalled. "We had a lot of fun on the trips. The kids still go today."
Williams said 4-H provides today's youth with life and leadership skills many children otherwise wouldn't possess, and she does admit a larger club would be welcomed.
"We could always use more members," Williams noted. "And we never turn anyone away."
For more information about Mississippi County 4-H, or to join, call the Mississippi County Extension office at 573-683-6129.