Jay Whaley: 4-H - Appreciating our heritage and community

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— Since 1929, the Routt County 4-H program has had much to celebrate. This year was no exception.

For the past 78 years, Routt County youths have learned through hands-on and real-life experiences completing the 4-H projects they select. Local 4-H members just celebrated their accomplishments at their annual Achievement Day program.

Part of this celebration was dedicated to honoring the Century Ranches of Routt County. These are ranches that have been continuously owned by the same family for more than 100 years. This year, the 4-H membership honored four new Century Ranches: the Monger Ranch, the Appel Farm and the Stanko Ranch, which are in Steamboat Springs, and the Saddle Pocket Ranch in Slater, which is owned by the Marsh family. The longevity of these traditional ranch families, and the fact they have endured through the years to maintain a living in agriculture is an important achievement in our community.

Not only have these families maintained a culture rich with history, all of them have developed strong ties with their involvement in 4-H. The Monger family's rich traditions in 4-H go back as far as 1929, when family members were part of the first Routt County 4-H Club. This club still has the honor of having Monger family members as part of their community.

The Appel Farm was homesteaded in 1905, and many of the Appel family have been 4-H leaders throughout the years. The Stanko Ranch was established in 1907 and is operated by Jim and Jo Stanko. Jim was a former 4-H member and Extension Agent in Routt County, and Jo still volunteers for the program. The Saddle Pocket Ranch, established in 1881 (in an area of Routt County many think of as Wyoming), has a long history in the area. It has the distinction of operating the oldest business in Routt County.

Adult volunteer leaders are the backbone of the Routt County 4-H program. This year, 4-H members celebrated many first-, fifth-, 10th- and 20th-year leaders. However, it is a rare occasion to have volunteers who stay committed for 45 years. Virginia Rossi had the honored distinction of volunteering for the Routt County 4-H program for her 45th year. Her first year as a leader was in 1962. All nine of her children, and many of her nine grandchildren, have been in 4-H. She was the Club Leader for the Flat Top 4-H Club in Yampa, which her grandkids are members of today.

Annually, the Routt County 4-H members also honor individuals and businesses that have supported them throughout the years. This year, they honored Mary Kurtz, Karin Utterback-Normann, and John and Patty Kerst as Friends of 4-H. All these individuals are ambassadors to the 4-H program, and are important to its success.

The Routt County 4-H Program has evolved into much more than a program for ranch kids and projects at the county fair. Members today enroll in sewing, computers, shooting sports, veterinary science, cooking, rockets, food science and much more. Projects focus on teaching leadership, citizenship and cooperation through community service work, club involvement and programming. Four-H members not only learn how to feed an animal or make a project, but they know how to keep proper records and analyze them. Responsibility, commitment, and strong family involvement are other values 4-H members learn and pass on from generation to generation.

Routt County 4-H is open for enrollment for the 2008 year. Traditional 4-H enrollment is for youths ages 8 to 18 as of Jan. 1. There are nine clubs in Routt County that families may get involved in. In addition, they are always in need of caring adults to teach 4-H members, or volunteer at events. For more information, call the Routt County Extension Service Office at (970) 879-0825.

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