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VIP Involvement with 4-H - D R A F T

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4-H has been fortunate in having the personal support of literally thousands of successful and noted people over the past century. These include presidents, senators and congressman, governors, corporate executives, sports stars, entertainers, broadcasters and editors, astronauts, authors, educators, scientists and inventors - VIPS representing every walk of life. While it is impossible to name or to document this impressive group, it is interesting to review how some of these people came into contact with 4-H in a variety of ways.


When President Calvin Coolidge agreed to become the first Honorary Chairman of the National Committee on Boys and Girls Club Work, it began a tradition that lasted eight decades, president after president up through William Jefferson Clinton. This was a tremendous support for 4-H at the highest level. Earlier presidents - William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, and Warren G. Harding - had met with or posed for photos with 4-H judging teams or visitors to the White House, but no President before Coolidge had become so involved in an official capacity. President Coolidge was exposed directly to 4-Her's during the 1924 National 4-H Congress. As honored guest of the International Live Stock Exposition that year, on the final night of Congress the entire delegation put on a special parade for the President in the Arena. Guy Noble, Director of the National Committee on Boys and Girls Club Work, reminisces that "plans and times for the event were changing by the minute up until the program started but somehow we pulled it off, and it proved to be one of those rare occasions when President Coolidge not only smiled but had a hearty laugh when he saw the sign the youngsters were carrying - We like Coolidge 'cause Coolidge likes us."

The National 4-H Service Committee also began the tradition of involving major corporate executives and other influential leaders on its board from its earliest days starting in 1921, continuing to the present with the National 4-H Council board of trustees. Some of these earliest members during the decade of the 1920s included: Thomas E. Wilson, President of Wilson & Company; U.S. Senator Arthur Capper;H. A. Morgan, President, University of Tennessee; Hon. Frank O. Lowden, former Governor, Illinois;Melvin Traylor, President, First National Bank, Chicago; Sam Thompson, President, American Farm Bureau Federation;Alexander Legge, President, International Harvester Co.; R. A. Pearson, President, University of Maryland; L. J. Taber, Master, National Grange; Fred O. Bohen, Publisher, Meredith Publications; Burton M. Smith, Chairman, Agricultural Commission, American Bankers' Association; Everett C. Brown, President, Chicago Live Stock Exchange; and, F. E. Murphy, Publisher, Minneapolis Tribune. This tradition continued on over the decades, personally involving the top executives of dozens of the Fortune 500 companies as officers and members of the board.

Early on during the first National 4-H Congresses in Chicago during the 1920s, dignitaries often entertained the young delegates as speakers on the program. Some of these included poet Edgar Guest in 1926; author and African explorer Mary Hastings Bradley in 1927, also children's poet Edmund Vance Cooke in 1927; and in 1928 George K. Cherrie, famous explorer who accompanied Teddy Roosevelt on his trips to South American and Tibet.

Decades of the 1930s and 1940s

(photo of Barney Oldfield and Robert McCurdy), p. 1, Aug/Sept 1934 Boys & Girls Club News)

Top three winners in the 1934 national story writing contest, sponsored by Chrysler Motors Corporation, each won a new Plymouth DeLuxe sedan. Barney Oldfield, veteran auto racer makes the presentation of one of the autos to Robert McCurdy, 4-H member of Oskaloosa, Iowa, in front of the grandstand at the Century of Progress 1934 World's Fair in Chicago.

The January 1935 issue of the National Boys and Girls Club News carries a brief news clip about Mercer County, Illinois club folks having many winnings and with this assurance thought to bring Will Rogers to the 1934 National 4-H Club Congress as their special contribution. They had noted his visit to a 4-H show in Los Angeles (and several others) and his complimentary remarks about 4-H. But, Will had to disappoint them, however, as he was working on a picture, but the Mercer folks had fun out of it nevertheless. His remarks in L.A.: "I was down to the Los Angeles Live Stock Show, and I saw these hundreds of farmer boys that had fattened and cared for a calf, or pig, or sheep, themselves. It's a thing called the 4-H Club. Somebody was inspired when they founded that. It's all over the country. By golly, they are a great bunch of kids, and they have some fine stock."

(photo of Amelia Earhart presenting awards) p. 10, Mar 1935 Boys & Girls Club News or 1935 annual report)

The 1932 National Club Congress was a little more fortunate - Amelia Earhart, famous aviatrix, honored winners in the program sponsored by Thomas E. Wilson. With Mr. Wilson and Miss Earhart in the foreground, the smiling boys are: l. to r. - Vernon Epting, South Carolina; Joe Church, Idaho; Wm. R. Bennett, West Virginia; and Floyd Weaver, Indiana.

(photo of Adm. Byrd from 1931 Annual Report)

Thomas E. Wilson brought Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd to the National 4-H Club Congress in 1931 to give delegates the inspiration of meeting a great national hero - the only man to fly over both the North and South Poles. Adm. Byrd is shown here making scholarship awards to the three national winners in the Thomas E. Wilson contest: Harold Hamilton of Pine Plains, New York; Walter Jaeger, Sherwood, Oregon; and Carl Oldham of Charlottesville, Indiana. Mr. Wilson and his son, Edward F. Wilson, stand to the left in the picture.

Mr. Wilson brought a pair of aviators to the 1933 National 4-H Congress who had become famous only the week before. Marine Major Chester Fordney and Navy LCDR T. G. "Tex" Settle made America's first stratospheric balloon ascension on November 20, 1933 in a balloon that had a gondola brightly inscribed "A Century of Progress", the theme of the 1933 World's Fair. The balloon reached a height of 61,237 feet, a record that stood for many years. It was the first successful trip by man into the upper atmosphere. The pair proved to be popular guests at the 1933 National 4-H Club Congress which took place just a few days after their well publicized trip into "space". They look on in the below photo as Thomas E. Wilson is shown pinning a medal on Harry Hege, Jr. of Indiana, national meat animal champion. Enjoying the scene, in addition to Fordney and Settle is Edward F. Wilson, Mr. Wilson's son, at the far left, and other 4-H delegates.

(photo of Fordney & Settle fm. 1933 Annual Report)

(photo. page 7, March 1937 National 4-H Club News)


Famous grand opera star Lily Pons poses with top winners in the Third 4-H National Food Preparation Contest, sponsored by Servel, Inc., at 1936 National 4-H Club Congress.

Other dignitaries who attended early National 4-H Congresses in the 1930s included Edgar Guest, the people's poet; Sergeant Alvin C. York, hero of World War I; General David Sarnoff, head of RCA; Helen Hicks, of golf fame; Prof. W. D. MacMillan, the astronomer; J.C. Penney, the chain store magnate; actress Gertrude Lawrence; grand opera prima donna Cyrena Van Gordon; and, many others.

Decades of the 1940s and 1950s

In 1948, when Norman Rockwell created the famous painting, "The County Agent," depicting Extension agent Herald Rippey (kneeling) as he explains to 4-H member Jama Fuller (left, wearing saddle shoes) how he is checking a calf, while other members of the Fuller family of Redkey, Indiana look on, his creative genius was at its best! The painting had captured the spirit of rural America, the Extension Service, and 4-H all in one memorable scene. The original painting today is housed in the Kellogg Conference Center at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. The painting, a sentimental favorite of 4-H enthusiasts everywhere, was transferred onto a pair of limited edition collector plates offered through the National 4-H Supply Service. In 1989, David L. Litten, vice president, Midwestern Region, Westinghouse Electric Corporation, a member of National 4-H Council's board of trustees, presented a signed original of the Rockewell print of "The County Agent" to 4-H Council President Dick Sauer to be hung at the National 4-H Center.

(2 photos/no captions. Pic. of 2 men holding Rockwell print and pic of 2 Rockwell plates. Page 11, Summer 1989 4-H Council Quarterly)

In the 1940s some of the stars visiting National 4-H Congress included sports stars Ted Williams, Babe Didrickson Zaharias, and Johnny Lujack. Actress Rhonda Fleming was a guest of Servel at the 1944 Congress.

A number of leaders and dignitaries continued to make visits to the annual National 4-H Club Congress during the 1950s. One major guest was U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles who visited the 1954 4-H Congress, making a major speech before the entire delegation. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson was also on hand, giving the delegates a stirring message on problems of rural life and the economy.

(photo. Cover photo of Jan 1955 News)

Caption: Jean Oestreich, Ritzville, and Paul Selle, Spokane, representing the Washington delegation, presented Secretary of State John Foster Dulles with some Washington apples during the 1954 National 4-H Club Congress.

Radio and screen star Dennis Day was at Congress in 1950, and James Cagney in 1956.

Decades of the 1960s and 1970s

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the National 4-H Service Committee, in cooperation with the Cooperative Extension Service, provided a package of radio public service announcements each year... sometimes on audio tape and sometimes as vinyl recordings... sometimes both. These spots, released just prior to National 4-H Week, were traditionally voiced by VIPs and celebrities supporting 4-H. Some of these supporters who voiced the 4-H public service announcements during the 1960's included:

  • Bill Cosby, actor
  • Jimmy Stewart, actor
  • Marilyn Van Derbur, Miss America
  • Hubert H. Humphrey, Vice President
  • Kathryn Crosby, actress, widow of Bing Crosby
  • Ernie Ford, entertainer
  • Bart Starr, Green Bay Packers quarterback
  • Don Meredith, Dallas Cowboys quarterback
  • James Lovell, astronaut
  • Diahann Carroll, entertainer
  • Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs first baseman
  • Bob Hope, entertainer
  • Mike Douglas, television personality
  • Anita Bryant, entertainer
  • Gale Sayers, Chicago Bears running back
  • Parnelli Jones, race car driver
  • Johnny Carson, television personality
  • Eddie Albert, entertainer
  • Ann Landers, columnist
  • Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts quarterback
  • Arthur Godfrey, entertainer

(photo) Arthur Godfrey presentation, p. 10 Oct 68 4-H News

Arthur Godfreywas cited for outstanding service to 4-H during his CBS radio network show in August 1968. Presenting the plaque in behalf of 4-H was Carol Burnham, Warehouse Point, Connecticut. During the program Godfrey interviewed the 4-H'er on her outstanding record in food preservation and her experiences as a camp counsellor.

Also in 1968, one of the stars of one of the top TV series of the season - Diahann Carroll - starring in the NBC-TV show "Julia" sponsored by General Foods, national 4-H food nutrition program donor, attended National 4-H Congress and did personal television interviews with each of the 51 state food nutrition winners to send back for station distribution in the states. This was a popular commitment that General Foods made to publicize 4-H through television inteviews over a period of several years.

(photo) complete page ad of Diahann Carroll p.3 Nov 68 4-H News


From November 1968 National 4-H News

  • Jim Nabers, while starring in the CBS-TV series, "Gomer Pyle--USMC," also attended National 4-H Congress in behalf of General Foods where he entertained the delegates and did television interviews with all 51 winners in the Foods-Nutrition Awards Program. This pattern of using high profile celebrities to do their delegate TV interviews went on for a number of years.

    "Young Citizens in Action," a 16mm film produced at the 1962 National 4-H Congress by the Olin Mathieson Chemical Corp. was narrated by TV Commentator Chet Huntley of the famed Huntley and Brinkley network evening news.

    National 4-H Conference delegates had the pleasure of meeting and listening to presentations by a number of governmental officials over the years. At the 1965 conference Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman spoke on change in America and Secretary of State Dean Rusk gave a presentation on international understanding.

    The 4-H radio and television celebrity spots continued into the 1970s. Some of our 4-H friends who volunteered to be featured on PSA's included: Pat Boone, Roy Rogers, The Captain & Tenille, Archie Griffin, Telly Savalas, The Fifth Dimension and Tanya Tucker.

    During the 1970's VIP's continued to be present at National 4-H Congress, National 4-H Conference and other major 4-H events, performing a variety of rolls.

    During the 1970 National 4-H Congress, General Foods Corporation brought TV star Danny Thomas to Chicago. Not only did he mingle with the Congress delegates, but he did single television interviews with each of the 51 state winners in the General Foods sponsored Food-Nutrition Awards program for their hometown media outlets.

    (photo) Full page ad on Danny Thomas, P. 3, Dec.

    1970 National 4-H News)

    While perhaps not yet considered a celebrity during the early 1970s, working out of a network affiliate in Indianapolis, the popular 4-H television show, "Clover Power" annually came to National 4-H Congress in Chicago to do a complete hour show with the Indiana delegation. The show was hosted by none other than the very young David Letterman.

    (photos of Dr. Fiedler & orchestra, p. 15 1974 Congress prog)

    During the decades of the '60s, '70s and '80s annually the donors brought celebrities to National 4-H Congress to entertain the delegates. Foremost on this list is probably Arthur Fiedler, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who came to Chicago annually through the sponsorship of The Singer Company to conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a "Pops" Concert at Orchestra Hall. Dr. Fiedler performed for Congress delegates for over 20 years straight. Another annual visitor to 4-H Congress each year was Miss America who performed at the General Motors luncheon and mingled with the delegates around the hotel.

    Other entertainers during this era popular with the delegates included the Chicago Ballet, Serendipity Singers, Up With People, The Earl Scruggs Review, Brothers and Sisters, The Establishment, The Cowsills, The New Christy Minstrels, Danny Davis & The Nashville Brass, Approaching Storm, The Kids Next Door, The New Virginians, Alabama, Purdue University Varsity Glee Club, Randy Sparks & The Back Porch Majority, Head East, The Ides of March, Chandler Conspiracy, The Kids from Wisconsin, Jerry Lewis and Harry Blackstone Jr. to name a few.

    Annually, major speakers graced the stages at 4-H Congress, delighting and inspiring the delegates - everyone from Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens to Vice President Hubert Humphrey and President Richard M. Nixon.

    Celebrities continued to be supportive of 4-H in a variety of ways.

    (photo) Alan Shepherd, p. 10, Aug 1972 4-H News)


    Astronaut Alan Shepherd took interest in 4-H model rocketry clubs springing up across the country. Here he presents an autographed model rocket to 4-H'er Billie Atwood of Barrington, New Hampshire in 1972

    Decades of the 1980s and 1990s

    4-H at the national level was still in the mode of using VIP's to help promote 4-H membership and 4-H programs during the 1980s including attending events, speaking engagements and producing radio and television spot announcements.

    (photo - Summer 1982 Quarterly)

    Charley Pride, country and western singer and 4-H alumnus, is shown taping a radio and television public service announcement with 4-H members

    (photo - Summer 1981 Quarterly)

    Erik Estradaof television's "CHIPS" takes a break from filming and recording 4-H public service spots to visit with 4-H'ers on location in Los Angeles

    The 1982 promotion kit for National 4-H Week included television and radio public service announcements recorded by Secretary of Agriculture and Mrs. John Block, welterweight boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard, country singer and 4-H alumnus Charley Prideand entertainer Rita Moreno.

    Lt. Col. Ellison S. Onizuka, NASA astronaut and Hawaii 4-H alumnus, was very active supporting and promoting 4-H at both the national level and in Hawaii during the mid-1980s.

    (photo/caption from p.4 Summer 1985 Quarterly)

    Unfortunately with the great tragedy of the Spaceship Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986, 4-H lost a great friend. The Onizuka Fund for Excellence was established at the National 4-H Council to honor Ellison Onizuka and the crew of the Challenger. Hundreds of gifts for the named fund were received from 4-H members, families, 4-H staff members, leader councils, state 4-H foundations, individuals and corporate friends. During the opening assembly of the 1986 National 4-H Congress in Chicago, Mrs. Lorna Onizuka presented the 4-H flag her husband carried on the Space Shuttle Discovery mission in 1985 to 4-H, stating "The activities Ellison participated in and learned from in 4-H, the friendships he developed, were treasured throughout his life... please accept this flag on his behalf. I know that he's pleased to know that it's being returned to you." (The flag is currently on display at the National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland)

    1986 4-H Promotional Package Uses VIPs.

    What do Harold Poling, Ford Motor Company president, Owen Bieber, president of the United Auto Workers, President Ronald Reagan, Country-Western singer Reba McEntire, and NASCAR racing legend Richard Pettyhave in common?

    They all are representatives for 4-H in the 1986 annual promotional TV and print public service announcements.

    Poling, Bieber, and McEntire are all 4-H alumni; Petty is a former 4-H volunteer leader and President Reagan is honorary chairman of National 4-H Council. Poling and Bieber appear in a joint announcement.

    (photos Harold Poling from p.5, Summer 1986 Quarterly)

    Harold Poling, president of Ford Motor Company, rehearses his lines in the 4-H public service announcement he made with United Auto Workers president, Owen Bieber

    Many VIPs supported 4-H through participation in National 4-H Congress and National 4-H Conference during the 1980s.

  • Rafer Johnson, decathlon winner at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and bearer of the torch to open the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, gave the keynote address at 4-H Congress in 1985. The 1984 keynote speaker was former 4-H'er and National 4-H Congress delegate Judi Hofer, now one of America's most successful business-women as president and chief executive offer, May Co., California. Keynote speaker in 1986 was Captain James A. Lovell, former astronaut on Apollo 8 and 13 space flights. The 1987 keynote speaker at National 4-H Congress was Dr. Joyce Brothers, well-known psychologist.
  • Helen Thomas, White House bureau chief for United Press International, was a frequent visitor to the National 4-H Center, speaking to 4-H groups attending 4-H Conference and Citizenship Washington Focus. Former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Warren Burger, addressed delegates at the 1988 National 4-H Conference at the National 4-H Center.

    (photo of Helen Thomas, page 1, Fall 1985 Quarterly)


    Talking with Helen Thomas, White House bureau chief for United Press International, are Profiles for Tomorrow delegates Sandra Springer, Michigan and Jim Eischens, Minnesota

    (photo of Burger page 1 spring '88 Quarterly)


    Former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Warren Burger addresses delegates to the 58th National 4-H Conference at the National 4-H Center

    Assisting with the production of the 4-H television series, "Blue Sky Below My Feet" were four astronauts from the Johnson Space Center in Houston -Don Williams, Mack Lee, Bob Crippin and Ellison Onizuka - all 4-H alumni. Also taking part in the series wasMel Blanc (voice of "Bugs Bunny") doing the voice of Ion, the computerized star of the series, and atomic sounds' music being provided by Herbie Mann, Ray Brown and Barney Kessel.

    An Arabian Tale--The Georgia 4-H Way. The fast-paced, sing-song voice of the auctioneer... a scream... a cheer... and the winning bidder is announced. A lucky 4-H'er will go home with a dream horse, as another fine Arabian gelding is sold at a unique auction held at entertainer Kenny Rogers' Beaver Dam Farms in Georgia. At the sale, only 4-H members had the privilege to bid. They had the opportunity to purchase animals at well below their real value, since all the horses offered for sale had been donated to the Georgia 4-H Foundation by Rogers and several other Arabian owners. Proceeds of the sale went directly to the Foundation. Rogers said, "It's our way of giving something back. We are glad we can support 4-H in this way. It is a worthwhile organization that deserves support."

    (photo of Kenny Rogers, p. 8, Summer 1984 Quarterly)

    Kenny Rogerscongratulates Jeff Bray, Georgia 4-H'er, on his winning bid

    (photo of Roy Rogers, p. 2, Spring 1984 Quarterly)

    Roy Rogers, former 4-H member, talks to 4-H'ers in one segment of the film "4-H Is More!"

    Famous cowboy actor, Roy Rogers told his 4-H story in a film, "4-H Is More!" produced in 1984 cooperatively by the Illinois State 4-H Foundation and National 4-H Council. In one part of the film, Rogers talks to a group of young people about 4-H and the influence of 4-H on his life. When he was growing up in a small town in Ohio, Roy recalled, there wasn't much for kids to do. Then a new teacher assigned to their school introduced 4-H. Roy calls this "a turning point in his life." the first year he was in 4-H, Roy tells the young people, he chose a pig project and hand-raised a baby pig. From this experience, he says, he learned lessons in responsibility tht would last a lifetime. That first year, Roy goes on, he won first place in his county with his pig project and won a trip to Columbus, Ohio. For a kid who had never been more than 10 miles from home Roy says, this was a big event, staying in a fancy hotel and all. "4-H" Roy concludes, "teaches you that you have to work for what you get, It teaches you to be responsible and it gives you the kinds of experiences that develop leadership."

  • John Thompsonpromotes 4-H in the District of Columbia every opportunity he gets! As Georgetown University's basketball coach, who led his team to the NCAA championship in 1984, before taking the coaching job at Georgetown, Thompson was the first "state" 4-H leader in the District of Columbia.

    Decade of 2000 and Beyond

    Principal author: Larry L. Krug

  • Compiled by National 4-H History Preservation Team.

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