By DOUG GRAVES
CONOVER, Ohio —National 4-H Week is Oct. 3-9 this year. It is a time to recognize the work of both students and educators.
According to the National 4-H Council more than 6 million students participate in 4-H programs in the United States. “In 4‑H programs, kids and teens complete hands-on projects in areas like health, science, agriculture and civic engagement in a positive environment where they receive guidance from adult mentors and are encouraged to take on proactive leadership roles. Kids experience 4‑H in every county and parish in the country through in-school and after-school programs, school and community clubs and 4‑H camps,” the council says on its website.
“4‑H’s reach and depth are unmatched, reaching kids in every corner of America – from urban neighborhoods to suburban schoolyards to rural farming communities. Our network of 500,000 volunteers and 3,500 4‑H professionals provide caring and supportive mentoring to all 6 million 4‑H’ers, helping them grow into true leaders today and in life.”
And it all started in Ohio.
Albert Belmont Graham (better known as A.B.) gave birth to the 4-H 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. Graham is also instrumental in the establishment of junior high schools and was a founding member of what is now known as the Association for Communication Excellence, an international professional group for land-grant communicators. Graham was not only a 4-H proponent but a teacher as well.
The A.B. Graham Center (former building of the Miami East School District) was built in 1917 and still stands. The building sits on the same site where A.B. Graham began his career in education and serves as a museum honoring both Graham and the 4-H program.
Today the building serves the local community as a place to meet, socialize and conduct business while at the same time recognizing Graham’s work. It is also home to three local 4-H clubs.
Jim Graham, A.B.’s grandson, recalls his grandfather’s patience as he helped Jim with schoolwork and showed him how to plant beans and corn, and other lessons that led to a lifelong interest in gardening.
A.B. Graham was born in Lena, Ohio, on March 13, 1868. He was a schoolmaster and agriculture extension pioneer at Ohio State University. Graham taught at an integrated rural school in Springfield Township in Clark County. The very first official 4-H meeting was an agriculture experimental club.
It was in 1902 that Graham held his first meeting of what was then called the Boys and Girls Agriculture Club in Springfield, Ohio. Three years later he became the first superintendent of Agriculture Extension at Ohio State University.
There were similar clubs created by other individuals, but none took root as A.B. Graham’s did. O.J. Kern started a similar club in February 1902 in Winnebago County, Illinois. Many of these early clubs (which were project oriented) were called Tomato Clubs, Corn Clubs or Canning Clubs.
The well recognized 4-H clover design was created in 1910 by Jessie Field Shumbaugh, who was known then as the “Mother of 4-H Clubs”.
In 1915 Graham moved to Washington, D.C. as head of agriculture specialists in the federal Extension Service. He retired in 1938 and moved back to Clintonville, Ohio.
Graham was honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a special 4-H 50th anniversary stamp. Graham died eight years later on Jan. 14, 1960.
4-H began to reach out across rural areas and began to extend into urban areas in the 1950s. The organization changed in the 1960s, combining 4-H groups divided by gender or race into a single integrated program.
Those at the museum say that A.B.’s great-grandchildren are continuing the family’s 4-H legacy as two of his great-grandchildren are partaking in 4-H projects of rabbits, rockets and photography.
The A.B. Graham Center is located at 8025 E. state Route 36 in Conover, Ohio. For more information visit www.abgraham.org.