CONOVER, Ohio — There are 6.5 million 4-H participants in the United States aged 5 to 21. All of them can thank a man named Albert Belmont Graham – better remembered as A.B. – for giving birth to this program in Clark County, Ohio, in 1902.
Graham was 32 when he started this program, which has grown into a national organization with 25 million alumni. He was also instrumental in the establishment of middle-schools and was a founding member of what is now known as the Assoc. for Communication Excellence, an international professional group for land-grant communicators.
Recently, Miami County residents, to include the multitude of 4-H participates in southwestern Ohio, honored this founder with a 150th birthday party held at the A.B. Graham Center and Museum located in Conover. The Center is a former building of the Miami East School District, built in 1917.
The building sits on the same site where Graham began his career in education. Today the building serves the local community as a place to meet, socialize, and conduct business, while at the same time recognizing the significant work he did.
Recognizing the historic significance of the building, concerned citizens rallied to save it, developing a nonprofit organization called the A.B. Graham Memorial Center. Now the Center is home to three local 4-H clubs.
Jim Graham, A.B.’s grandson, recalls his grandfather’s patience as he helped him with school work and showed him how to plant beans and corn, and other lessons that led to a lifelong interest in gardening.
“He was patient, but he was also strict,” Jim said. “Very straight and to the point. He was always real strong on kids to do their best. He wanted children to reach their full potential.”
Graham was born in Lena, Ohio, on March 13, 1868. He was a schoolmaster and agriculture extension pioneer at The Ohio State University. He taught at an integrated rural school in Springfield Township in Clark County. The first official 4-H meeting was an agriculture experimental club.
“He wore a suit every day,” Jim recalled, “whether in the garden or representing 4-H. And he never drove; he walked or took public transportation everywhere.
“He may have been ahead of his time regarding equality. The first clubs included white, black, and Hispanic children, and he did not limit club members to traditional topics. He taught girls gardening and boys cooking.”
He never went by his given name of Albert Belmont. “He ignored anyone who called him anything but A.B.,” Jim explained.
History books show that while they focused on young people, the early clubs attracted parents as well. Even in the early stages of the program, club members planted corn and tested soils for acidity.
“When the parents started attending, he launched a contest between parents and children,” Jim said.
A.B.’s great-grandchildren (Jim and wife Geraldine’s grandchildren) are continuing the family’s 4-H legacy, as two of them are partaking in projects of rabbits, rockets, and photography.
Jim’s efforts include finding a home for the many treasures he inherited relating to his grandfather. Among them is the sewing table his great-grandmother used to support the family after her husband died in a house fire, and A.B.’s bookcase, the individual slates he used in teaching, and countless books, letters, and photographs.
Jim also appears at fairs and 4-H camps, where he passes out Ohio 4-H memorabilia to help keep A.B. Graham’s story alive.
The A.B. Graham Center is located at 8025 E. State Route 36 in Conover; for more information visit it, or go to www.abgraham.org
Graham & 4-H timeline
1868: Graham was born in Champaign County, Ohio
1804: Attended the National Normal University in Lebanon
1902: Held first meeting of the Boys and Girls Agriculture Club in Springfield
1905: Became first superintendent of agriculture extension at The Ohio State University
1910: Jessie Field Shambaugh (known as the “Mother of 4-H Clubs”) developed a clover pin with the letter “H” on each leaf; two years later these clubs became recognized as 4-H clubs
1915: Graham moved to Washington, D.C., as head of agriculture specialists in the federal extension service
1952: Honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a special 4-H 50th anniversary stamp
1960: Died on Jan. 14