Celebration Aug. 5 during fair to mark 100 years of 4-H in McHenry Co.

The McHenry County Fair has long been known for its close association with 4-H. Youth-raised livestock fills the barns, general project work is on display and hundreds of young volunteers staff food stands and lend a hand throughout the grounds. This year when the fair returns, Tuesday, Aug. 1, through Sunday, Aug. 6, 4-H will mark its 100th year in McHenry County.

Former 4-H’ers – and anyone with a heart for the 103-year-old national youth organization – are invited to a centennial celebration for McHenry County at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, in Hansen Pavilion at the McHenry County Fairgrounds, 11900 Country Club Road. A gate entry fee of $8 will apply, $5 for senior citizens age 60 and older, children age 6 to 12 years or veterans. Children younger than 6 are free.

Since 1917, young people have gathered throughout McHenry County at farms, homes and any meeting space they could find to work on projects, brainstorm ideas, plan activities and learn from each other as members of local 4-H clubs.

That year nine clubs formed in McHenry County with names like the Corn Team, the Jolly Riley Canning Club and Coral and Seneca Boys and Girls Club. The members signed up for livestock projects such as dairy, beef, swine and poultry and they developed skills in home economics such as sewing, baking and canning.

Two 4-H alumni and lifelong supporters of the organization, Judy Corson and Cindy Harris, spent about two years visiting libraries and the McHenry County Historical Museum to gather information about 4-H in McHenry County documenting the numerous clubs, the leaders’ names and what projects were popular. Their findings were compiled into a book which will be on display and available for viewing in the 4-H building during the fair.

“There have been a lot of changes, however, I feel the program is very strong in McHenry County,” said Corson.

They learned the McHenry County 4-H program is the second oldest in the state of Illinois with Huntley Harvesters 4-H Club as the oldest in the county, celebrating 90 years this summer.

Harris, who battled cancer for many years, lost her fight just six months short of the 100 years in 4-H celebration. She will be recognized during the celebration for her contributions as an alumna, volunteer and a 4-H program coordinator.

Harris’s daughter Nancy Kowalski has been active in planning the celebration. “I got volunteered by my mom to be on the committee,” she said.

A former 4-H’er too, Kowalski describes herself as born and raised in 4-H. “It’s part of my blood. Everything in my life revolved around 4-H and it guided who I am today.”

That sentiment is echoed in the stories and photos shared by many 4-H alumni who commented on the 100 years of 4H in McHenry County Facebook page.

Max England, Sioux City, Iowa, wrote, “I can recall being a youngster exploring meats judging at Jones Locker in Woodstock and looking at trays of meat wondering how can people tell what’s what. And to think, I’ve made a career in the meat industry.”

Veterinarian Debbie (Olbrich) Rink, agreed that the skills she gained from 4-H continue to impact her daily work life. She wrote, “They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I am so thankful that I belonged to the village of 4-H.”

Southwest Area 4-H Youth Development Specialist at Kansas State Research and Extension Amy Sollock wrote, “4-H volunteers might not realize the magnitude of their gift at the time, but looking back 20 years later, it was these very adults that ignited my own passion for positive youth development. My years as a McHenry County 4-H member led me down a path to what has now turned into a career of Extension and 4-H club work. I routinely think back to my 4-H days in McHenry County as a shining example of what 4-H can do for young people.”

Corson, who grew up in a 4-H family where both parents were leaders, said, “I’m very pleased and very proud we’ve come as far as we have. The youth are wonderful, and I look forward to the future.”

Organizers are especially interested in finding 4-H alumni, multi-generational 4-H families and 4-H supporters to join the festivities Aug. 5. Alumni who would like to share a 4-H story are asked to submit stories via the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/100-years-of-4H-in-McHenry-County-129284670998798/.

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