Back in 1921, Iowa native Neil Irving came to Coeur d’Alene after completing his degree and distinguishing himself as an athlete at the University of Idaho.
Having set numerous track and football records during his Vandal career, Irving was offered a chance to play professional football. He turned it down to pursue a career in agriculture.
That decision helped carve out a legacy for Irving that would impact the lives of thousands of young people in Kootenai/Shoshone counties. A year after Irving, now 99, began his 16-year stint as Kootenai County agricultural agent, 4-H was born in this area. Both Irving and the 4-H program have lived long, productive lives.
As part of its theme of “Celebration,” this year’s North Idaho Fair will provide the setting for a giant birthday party honoring the 75th Anniversary of 4-H in Kootenai/Shoshone counties.
Throughout this past year, hundreds of 4-H alumni, 4-H leaders and present day 4-Hers have been reflecting on the program that has provided a valuable educational and social foundation for young people.
“Everyone has been aware all year that this is the 75th year, and it’s been highlighted in everything,” said Joanne Haugen, University of Idaho Cooperative Extension secretary. “No matter where they look at the fair, they’ll be reminded of what happened 75 years ago while doing their regular thing.”
Mugs and T-shirts focusing on the anniversary have been on sale. Leaders and members have been asked to bring old photos and special awards won during past years for display at the fair Aug. 20-24.
Opening ceremonies on Wednesday, Aug. 20 at 11 a.m. will feature an organized salute to 4-H in Kootenai/Shoshone counties. Because Irving will not be able to attend the festivities, former 4-H leader Edna Smith will officiate at ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
Seventy-five years ago Smith took clothing and canning at Mountain View 4-H Club, the area’s first 4-H group. In 1963, she won Washington Water Power’s leader of the year award. Her late husband Frank also received the honor in 1954.
Several members of her family have represented Idaho at national 4-H gatherings. Smith has served on the Fair Board and still supervises the field crops division at the fair.
Retired State 4-H leader Maurice Johnson, a Kootenai County native and former 4-H’er, will emcee the program. The program includes a special proclamation from Gov. Phil Batt honoring the celebration.
Rich Broadsword, a middle management executive with Meier & Frank and Pier One Imports, will reflect on how 4-H helped him decide on and pursue a career.
After completing 10 years of 4-H while growing up in Rathdrum, Broadsword earned the title “Mr. 4-H” while working with the teen conference at the University of Idaho. He later graduated from WSU.
Ramsay Raiders 4-H club member Kasey Johnson will discuss the history of 4-H. Johnson was asked by U of I cooperative extension home economist Kathy Wallenhaupt to do his talk after completing research for his countywide oral presentation. Johnson will share anecdotes, including how the 4-H program helped bring in food for U.S. troops during World War I. A host of former agricultural and home economics agents, 4-H leaders of the year and 4-H alumni will attend the program as special guests.
Among those honored will be retired agricultural agent Clyde Stranahan, who served nearly 30 years.
When Stranahan first arrived in Coeur d’Alene in 1946, the fat stock sale included a calf scramble. A dozen business owners contributed $100 apiece to purchase 12 calves. “We turned the calves loose in a pen and the kids had to catch a calf,” Stranahan recalled. “If they caught ‘em, they owned ‘em.”
The event gave kids who didn’t have the money a chance to raise steer and make some money.
The following year, the 4-H’ers sold their fat steers. Business owners got their contributions back, the kids got their cut and money was used to buy more calves for the next year.
The procedure continued for about 12 years when officials decided a change was needed. Stranahan also served when the fair moved out of its former location in downtown Coeur d’Alene near Tubbs Hill.
The original 160 acre-site, formerly Weeks Airfield, now includes the fairgrounds and several county offices. Haugen, who joined the cooperative extension staff in 1968, has many good memories of her 29 years with the local program.
“It was very different then from now but still the same in some ways,” Haugen said. “It was a family affair. At that time 4-H was the only involvement for many families. Our life-style has changed so much now with mom and dad working.”
Haugen first worked when the county agent’s office was in the basement of the courthouse. “It was the four agents (Clyde Stranahan, 4-H agent Joe Dobson, home economist Ann Hess and extension forester Don White).
“I was the only secretary,” Haugen said. “We had a typewriter, a mimeograph machine and staplers.”
The current office near the fairgrounds houses 11 employees, including four secretaries. In addition to an up-to-date computer network, the support system also includes a cadre of specialized volunteers such as master gardeners.
In recent years the program has evolved from agricultural to urban in its focus. Dobson, a livestock and 4-H specialist from 1967-1972, saw a dramatic increase in 4-H enrollment during his five-year tenure.
“We created an interest in livestock,” he said. “We went to the schools and kind a wrote some projects that didn’t exist at the time like snowmobiling.”
Dobson recalls veterinary science and photography taking off at the time. Both provided the foundation for members who later became professionals in each field as adults.
Sue Fall, leader of the year in 1980, will be on hand to share her stories of working with youngsters in the Jolly Workers of Mica 4-H Club.
Fall says she led “anything no one else would do.” That includes entomology, clothing, personal development, money management and dog.
She’s been involved with 4-H for 25 years. Her experiences have included chairing the Western Regional Leaders Forum when it met in Idaho in 1985.
She also has been involved with the 4-H International Exchange program. Like her fellow leaders, Fall has seen changes in 4-H. She still believes the program Neil Irving started so many years ago has a valuable place in North Idaho.
“I find it exciting that these kids have an opportunity to have someone care about them,” she said. “It’s also exciting that something so elementary and grass roots to our lives is still here 75 years later.”
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