4-H dedicates new exhibit building at SEMO District Fair

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

This year a new addition at the SEMO District Fair is a 4,000-square-foot 4-H exhibit building, doubling the space for 4-H exhibitions from previous years. The building was built in time for the 150th anniversary of the fair through a collaboration among the Cape Girardeau County 4-H Council, the city of Cape Girardeau and the SEMO District Fair.

While 4-H and the fair seem to go hand in hand, it was not always so. According to information provided by Dortha Strack, who has been a 4-H leader for 43 years, 4-H was formed in Cape Girardeau County during the Depression years when the fair had been discontinued. In 2002, 4-H nationwide celebrated its 100th anniversary.

In 1932, Art Siemers and Alert Schabbing organized the Campster 4-H Club, the first in Cape Girardeau County. By 1936, 19 clubs had been organized in the county with an enrollment of 98 boys and 126 girls, and covered such projects as health and first aid, clothing, supper and breakfast, soil conservation, stock judging, gilt club and forestry.

By 1937, the first County Achievement Day was held in Jackson with 76 people attending. That same year, the first 4-H camp was held at Arcadia.

The SEMO District Fair reorganized in 1940. In 1944, Walter Wilkening and Della Koechig were the first 4-H members from Cape Girardeau County to be chosen as delegates to the National 4-H Club Congress in Chicago.

Generally, 4-H participants range in age from 7 to 19. In 1953, Marie Kirchdoerfer and Jackie Statler organized the RYO (Rural Youth Organization) for young people ages 21 through 35. Shortly after it was established, the RYO organized the first SEMO District Fair food stand as a fundraiser to support the 4-H Council programs. The 4-H food stand continues to be part of the district fair.

In 1971, 4-H had its highest number of clubs with 27, and the largest membership of 738 members. The numbers since then have dwindled and as of 2005 there are 13 clubs and a membership of 250.

"Sports has taken over," Strack said.

Among the youths who do participate, interest remains strong and seems to be gaining. Strack noted that there were 762 4-H exhibits in 2004, 37 more than in 2003. The numbers aren't as high as in years past, but they're still holding strong. With the new 4-H building on the fairgrounds, interest and participation may increase.

The Campster 4-H Club is no longer in existence, but clubs still meeting are Arnsberg, Cape County Junior Leaders, Cape County Wild Horses Rodeo, Clover Kids, Daisy, Fruitland, Gordonville, Homespun, Oak Ridge After School, Pocahontas, Progressive, Tilsit and Young Americans.

While there is still a strong agriculture tradition, 4-H has diversified. Strack said that one year the slogan for 4-H was "4-H Ain't Only Cows and Cookin.'"

This year's 4-H entries include the usual livestock exhibitions, but have added aerospace education, amphibians and reptiles, child development, clowning, computers, conservation, crops, entomology, forestry, geology, healthy lifestyles, leadership, photography, small engines and welding, among others.

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