You would think that an organization that came out of the first Corn Show at Richland Center in 1904 would have made its way into history and then disappeared. But by 1914 the corn growing contests were very popular, and Thomas Bewick was the man who became Wisconsin's very first 4-H State Program Leader under the UW Extension Office.

That makes Wisconsin's 4-H clubs officially 104 years old, and because they've learned to change with the times, this group is the largest youth development and empowerment organization currently with 150,000 youth ages 5-19 involved with 4-H and other UW Extension youth programs.

And it's no longer just the farm kids that participate. Now there are clubs in urban, suburban and rural communities. Some are held at the local schools as after-school activities.

Washburn County 4-H kids get to show their stuff and what they've learned this Thursday, July 26 through Sunday, July 29 at the Fairgrounds in Spooner which is located on Highway 63 and Fairgrounds Road south of the downtown.

Even though Ella Hills got involved 'sideways,' she's been an active part of a 4-H club and the fair since 1982 and has acted as secretary for the past 35 years. And what is the secret of her long career? "I like the kids."

As secretary, part of her job is to make sure everything is done by the International Association of Fairs and Expo playbook, who are under the Department of Agriculture and the University of Wisconsin Extension Department. The Ag. Department is the ones who help out financially with the cash premiums awarded along with the ribbons for those who get ribbons.

Ella gets to help pick out the entertainment each year, which she considers a vital part of the fair, especially when they tap into local talent. "Just think," she says. "We had Tonic Solfa performing when they were just starting out, and now they're Emmy Award winners. Actually, there have been many acts that started at the fair that have gone on to be huge."

This board is so efficient that next year's entertainment is already on the books.

She also helps find carnivals, and she says that's not easy. “They are getting harder and harder to find, but so far, K&M Carnivals have come through for us.”

The board also picks out the food vendors, along with the established 4-H food booth. “The reason we can't have lots more food is due to the health rule that food cannot be served closer than one hundred feet from any animal. So it's the way the fair is set up that determines the number of food spots we have.”

Bev Root fits into the faithful volunteer category perfectly. She started out sideways too as a leader at the Lincoln 4-H Club, starting twenty-three years ago, and serving on the board and in the arts and crafts section. She also serves on the fair board and is still an enthusiastic supporter of the fair.

Shauna Lindstrom is the pleasant voice on the phone when you dial 715-635-4444 and ask for 4-H information, whether it's about the fair or where the closest club is near you.

She also has all the information and the two important fair premium books, one for the 4-H kids that's over 100 pages, and one for the Open and Senior Division that's 61 pages. These have all the programs available and even list the requirements for each entry.

The open class displays in the original Plainview schoolhouse is so full that the entrees may need to be moved elsewhere due to its popularity. Open Class means just that, you can be any age and not associated with 4-H.

If you've never been to the fair, there is a great deal to see from the barns full of chickens, ducks, and rabbits,

to the Department of Natural Resources, the oldest building there manned by DNR employees with all sorts of nature for you to touch and feel.

Admittedly there are fewer clubs now with more kids living in town than on the farm, but 4-H has adjusted their requirements by creating new programs such as Shooting Sports, Metal Enameling, Consumer Savvy, parts one and two and International Studies. Spooner schools also hold several 4-H clubs as an after-school activity.

Charlotte Thompson's father, Ed Elliot, joined a 4-H club back in 1920 when they were known as Potato Clubs. It was also the era when each township held its own fair as well as attending the big fair in Spooner.

Charlotte has spent her entire life in 4-H, from youth activities to holding just about every office there was an adult. That adds up to 71 years of entry's that even earned her several trips to the State Fair.

She's framed her 4-H award pins and is pleased and proud that she is the second generation of now five generations of her family that continue to make their “best better” through 4-H

Research shows that 4-H helps young people excel beyond their peers, The structured learning, encouragement, and adult mentoring that young people receive through their participation helps them achieve success in life.

National researchers have found that 4-H youth are approximately:

  • four times more likely to make contributions to their communities
  • two times more likely to be civically active
  • two times more likely to make healthier choices in life
  • two times more likely to participate in science, engineering, and computer technology programs during out-of-school time.

If you'd like more information about 4-H, their website is simply, Washburn County 4-H

and make sure you visit the fair to see the shows, eat the foods and marvel at what 4-H kids can do. Or stop at the Extension Office next to the Fairgrounds during business hours and pick up a book for next year to see what might interest you.

4-H kids are the ones who, at every meeting, pledge their Head to clearer thinking, their Heart to greater loyalty, their Hands to larger service and their Health for better living for their club, their community, their country and their world.

About the Author: Diane Dryden is a features writer for She started her fifteen-year career as a features writer for the Washburn County Register and has written for assorted newspapers and national magazines. She has also just released the third novel in her Chicago series of books – Scott Free in Chinatown. You can visit Diane's website at or her facebook page at

Last Update: Jul 29, 2018 9:59 am CDT

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