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New Mexico State University

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New Mexico Celebrates Past, Present and Future of 4-H

SANTA FE - Near a train decked in green and white clovers, families huddled at the Santa Fe depot on Saturday, much as New Mexicans did 90 years ago when they first heard about a youth program now called 4-H.



To celebrate 4-H's national centennial, 250 passengers rode a historic train from Santa Fe to Lamy on April 27. State 4-H leadership team members wore their green corduroy jackets and waved to those along the route from a platform car. (05/02/2002) NMSU agricultural communications photo by D'Lyn Ford

"Close your eyes. Savor the moment. Because 100 years from now, people will be looking back on this as a historic day in the memoirs of 4-H," said Billy Dictson, director of New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. 4-H, which is celebrating its national centennial this year, has 50,000 members in New Mexico and 6.4 million worldwide, making it the world's largest youth organization.

New Mexicans celebrated 4-H's past, present and future with daylong events that featured the sounds of train whistles and young voices, the tastes of barbecue and birthday cake, and the spectacle of children releasing hundreds of green and white balloons into the sky.

A historic Santa Fe Southern train carried 250 passengers on the nostalgic trip to Lamy, 18.1 miles southeast of Santa Fe. State 4-H officers, ambassadors and diplomats in green corduroy jackets stood on an open platform car in the sharp wind, waving to Santa Feans at every intersection, drawing smiles and waves.

"4-H is about leadership and developing yourself," said State 4-H President Vera Wilson from Torrance County, who delivered a confident speech to the crowd at the depot. "I've gained knowledge and I've learned how to take charge of situations and how to work with others from being on the leadership team."

Wilson, who joined 4-H five years ago, said the range of 150 different projects attracts new members. "You can try just about any project you want. There's sewing, baking, rocketry, clowning and dog care."

At the train depot in Lamy, displays and demonstrations recalled 4-H's beginnings in 1912, when 10 percent of the state's population turned out to see the Cooperative Extension Service's demonstration trains. Back then, university specialists crisscrossed the state, sharing research-based information about farming and ranching, food preservation and forming youth clubs.

"These days, we in Extension use whatever is appropriate technology for the times," said Curtis Smith, a horticulture specialist who gave a demonstration at the Lamy depot of how to grow orchids using a plastic bag filled with sphagnum moss. "We're using television. We use the Internet. We use publications and speeches to groups - all kinds of different methods."

Palemon Martinez, who worked for Extension for 30 years in northern New Mexico, recognized a number of faces in the photos on display. "I still hear from former 4-H club members who recall specific activities," he said. "It must have meant something if they remember. Some of them credit 4-H with being very influential with the direction they took in life."

Martinez and his wife, Neoma, enjoyed the day's events with granddaughters Erica, 9, already a 4-H'er, and Marissa, 3. "I think the young one is already looking forward to becoming involved with 4-H," he said. His daughter, Lisa Garcia, works as a home economist with the Santa Fe County Extension office.

After a barbecue lunch, participants released a mass of green and white balloons.

"Your balloons today represent the spirit of 4-H," said Darlene Dickson, state 4-H specialist and chair of the centennial celebration committee. "By releasing these, we are saying that we hope 4-H will be just as strong a program 100 years from now as it is today. We're proud of the 100-year heritage that we have of helping youth develop life skills, leadership and citizenship."

The return trip, at 20 miles per hour, rocked the youngest passengers to sleep as "Orange Blossom Special" and "I've Been Working on the Railroad" played in the background.

Jake Dunlap, a Hidalgo County 4-H'er who traveled all the way from Lordsburg to ride the train, enjoyed the view from the transparent top of the dome car. In March, Dunlap represented New Mexico at the National 4-H Centennial Conversation in Washington, D.C., where 4-H'ers from across the country shared ideas for 4-H's future.

In the evening, 4-H members showed off their public speaking, musical and dance abilities in a 4-H Showcase at the Santa Fe County Fairgrounds. To cap it off, they sang "Happy Birthday" and cut into a giant birthday cake. Then they cleared away the chairs for a family-style dance that featured multiple generations of 4-H members.

Lloyd and Valdia Buchwald from Santa Fe, 4-H leaders for 38 years, enjoyed a slice of cake as they waited for their granddaughter, 17-year-old Heather Stumpff, to arrive. Heather and her parents, Cheryl and Ralph Stumpff, 4-H volunteers for 23 years, are active with Wide Horizons 4-H Club in Santa Fe.

The family's 4-H legacy goes back to the early days of Extension and 4-H in New Mexico. "My mother, Daisie, who is 92, remembers seeing demonstrations of how to serve hot meals for schools, using a potbellied stove," Ralph Stumpff said.

As he spoke, the next generation of 4-H members scampered around older brothers and sisters on the dance floor.