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Postmaster Puts Stamp on Lincoln County 4-H

GLENCOE, N.M. - Postmaster and 4-H volunteer Betty Joiner found a fitting way to celebrate 4-H's national centennial this year: a commemorative postmark that features 4-H's famous four-leaf clover and New Mexico's Smokey Bear.

Betty Joiner, center, postmaster in Glencoe, N.M. postmaster helps Emily Rush, left, and Kerstie Davis work on their 4-H project, stamp collecting. The third-graders are members of Capitan's C Mountain 4-H Club and plan to enter the projects in the Lincoln County Fair. (10/10/2002) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

"Smokey Bear says 'Join 4-H' and help celebrate 100 years," the postmark text reads.

Joiner, who started a three-generation 4-H tradition in her family, is among thousands of New Mexicans celebrating during National 4-H Week, Oct. 6-12.

4-H, which stands for head, heart, hands and health, is the world's largest youth organization, with 6.8 million members. In New Mexico, more than 50,000 young people, 3,500 adult volunteers and countless alumni are involved in 4-H.

Joiner can't remember a time when 4-H wasn't a part of her life. "My mom was a 4-H leader, and my dad would help me with my sheep projects," she said. Joiner was a leader when her own kids were in 4-H and remains a volunteer. Now, granddaughter Kerstie Davis continues the tradition in Capitan's C-Mountain 4-H Club.

This year, Kerstie is in Betsy Peralta's third-grade class at Capitan Elementary, where her grandma is a regular visitor who helps kids learn about stamp collecting. Joiner and Peralta have worked together since 1994 when Joiner asked if she could make a class presentation about stamps. The presentations became a weekly ritual that continues to this day.

The school project does double duty because some of the third-graders, like Kerstie, collect stamps in Cloverbuds, an introductory 4-H program for kids 5 to 8 years old.

Joiner purchases stamp collecting folders for each third-grader to get them started.

"When the stamps start coming out each January, I start saving them-40 to 50 of each," she said. "We begin with the Chinese New Year and Black Heritage Month issues." Joiner then writes and distributes an informative sheet to go with each stamp. By the end of the school year, the students have added 50 to 100 stamps from Joiner to their collections, along with any other stamps they've picked up on their own.

"I have taught eight classes, and the most rewarding thing is that so many people tell me that the stamp project became a family project, a way for the family to get together," Joiner said. "That's what I'm proudest of. It's what 4-H is about-to make the best better."

In 4-H, kids 9 to 19 years old can choose from more than 200 hands-on projects that run the gamut from baking and showing livestock to photography and model rocketry.

There's one omission, however, that Joiner would like to remedy by adding stamp collecting to the national list of approved 4-H projects.

"I submitted my idea to the committee this year, but it wasn't approved, so I'll try again
next year, and I'll keep trying until they approve it," Joiner said.

In Lincoln County, however, stamp collecting is an approved project, and Joiner is tickled that the Cloverbuds have taken to it.

"Stamp collecting is fun because there are so many different stamps," Kerstie said.

Joiner points out that it's also an inexpensive hobby because used stamps can be collected. "They're a history lesson in themselves," she said.

Collections can be varied or specific. "You could collect dogs, horses, flags. Olympic stamps are very popular with collectors," Joiner said. "Then, if you find stamps that are rare or unusual, you have a valuable project."

Joiner began working for the U.S. Postal Service in 1966 in Hondo, N.M. She did stints at post offices in Fort Stanton and Capitan before transferring to the Glencoe post office in 1999.

Joiner's classroom work started in 1994 when she was asked to find alternative ways to increase revenue at the small-town post offices. She thought if she got schoolchildren interested in stamp collecting, she'd sell a few more stamps, and figured she'd have a lot to work with because the U.S. Postal Service issues 100 to 200 new stamps per year.

Peralta said the students enjoy Joiner's visits to the classroom. "We work other lessons into the stamp presentations and the kids learn their addresses and how mail works," she said. "The kids who started this eight years ago will graduate from high school soon, and they still have their stamp collections."

Peralta ties curriculum to new stamp releases. "One year they issued a Hank Williams stamp, and we listened to Hank Williams music in the classroom," she said.

Along with music, the stamp units include math, history and social studies lessons. "A couple of weeks ago, the post office issued the dog and cat stamp and Betty brought her dogs in to do tricks for the kids," Peralta said. "Then, while she distributed the stamps, she gave the students a lesson on why it's important to spay and neuter pets."

Although Joiner thought that helping kids begin stamp collections would increase revenue, it didn't work out as she imagined. "I thought I could get each student's parents to send in money for a new stamp each week," she said. "But usually only two or three kids would have stamp money, so I had to find a way to raise money to buy stamps for each of the students."

Joiner began producing cachet envelopes with commemorative postmarks and selling them to collectors across the country for $5. One of these envelopes carries the image of Smokey Bear framed in gold foil embossing and costs Joiner about $2 to produce. The real-life Smokey Bear was found in the Capitan Mountains near Fort Stanton after a forest fire in 1950. Joiner had to obtain special permission to use Smokey's image on the envelopes.

"May 9 is when Smokey's birthday is celebrated, so every May I do a different commemorative envelope," she said. "This year I tied it in with 4-H's national centennial celebration."

The special envelopes and postmarks require a lot of advance planning. Joiner designs the commemorative postmarks, which must be submitted for approval to the national U.S. Postal Service department in Washington, D.C., six months in advance.

"You can have a commemorative cancellation stamp made for certain occasions, and most people don't even know this is available to them," Joiner said. "The postmark stamp is used at the post office where it was issued for 30 days, then we're required to destroy it."

The only requirement to obtain the collector's postmark is purchasing a stamp. Joiner receives requests for commemorative cancellations from stamp collectors across the nation, who send her self-addressed, stamped envelopes inside separate envelopes addressed to the postmaster. A publication produced by the U. S. Postal Service lists all commemorative stamps available at post offices across the country, including Joiner's.

"The 4-H Centennial stamp this year got a lot of attention because not many people outside of 4-H knew we were celebrating 100 years nationally," Joiner said. "So these commemorative postmarks really help publicize these things."

In New Mexico, 4-H has been offered for 90 years. Families can learn more about 4-H by contacting Cooperative Extension Service offices in each of New Mexico's 33 counties. Or they can call the State 4-H Office at New Mexico State University at (505) 646-3026 or visit New Mexico's 4-H World Wide Web site at http://cahe.nmsu.edu/4h/.