Six decades later, 4-H still plays a daily role in my life
By Jim Turner

Posted on October 6, 2023 6:08 AM


Beginning modestly in 1956 with a red ribbon in showmanship at the Logan County Fair with my little jersey heifer Ruby by my side and culminating in visiting with First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson at the White House in 1965, 4-H was a driving force of my youth and throughout my teen years. It spanned from fourth grade in Russellville through my freshman year at David Lipscomb College in Nashville.

This is National 4-H Week. When it rolls around each year, I tend to reflect on what 4-H meant to me then and how what I learned and experienced during those years that still helps shape my life now six decades later.

4-H was dominated by competition in those years, and I thrived on accumulating ribbons, medals and championships. Along the way, I won over 200 awards, including five state championships and third place in the nation in Citizenship. I earned two trips to Chicago, one to Washington, one to New York that included attending the famed 1964 World’s Fair, and a tour of 10 European countries, including three behind the Iron Curtain.

I pulled a pebble from the Berlin Wall, spent time at a collective farm outside Prague, Czechoslovakia, and played tennis on an island in the middle of the blue Danube River in Budapest, Hungary. I saw the first run of The Beatles’ movie Hard Day’s Night in London during the peak of their career, visited the Louvre and the Moulin Rouge in Paris, looked across the water from Denmark at Hamlet’s castle in Sweden, and ate oxtail soup in Scotland.

Because of being state 4-H President, I got to see my first University of Kentucky basketball game in person, which matched the nationally ranked number one Rupp’s Runts against number two Vanderbilt at Memorial Coliseum.

As state president, I met with Gov. Ned Breathitt in Frankfort and Senators John Sherman Cooper and Thruston Morton in Washington. Former Lt. Gov. Doc Beauchamp got me named a Kentucky Colonel at age 18.

All of this involved competition and a statewide election, and yet there are many everyday facets of my life that I have been able to handle so much better as an adult because of what I learned and experienced in 4-H.

Here are a few of those acquired skills:

*My first purple ribbon came in the county speech contest, and I participated in speech competition for nine years. With that foundation, I have taught public speaking 36 years, including 23 in college. Speaking publicly has never intimidated me.

*One of the prizes for winning that speech contest was a trip to 4-H Camp at Dawson Springs. An only child, I had never spent a night away from home without my parents, That first year, I was so homesick I could hardly eat. I went back six more years, though, and learned that I could function without my family watching over me along the way.

*Record keeping was a huge part of the competition. Every year, we had to write “My 4-H Story” to include with project record books. There was a thousand-word limit on the story. That seems like a lot, but over the years as I did more and added to my achievements. It became more and more difficult to limit the document to the word limit. I had to learn how to edit out items and descriptions. This has been a great asset to me in a 50-plus-year journalism career.

*Meeting state and national elected officials as a teen has made me comfortable interviewing candidates and office holders as a reporter and editor.

*My appreciation for adults who give of their time to help kids comes from being helped by so many dedicated volunteers during my 4-H years. My mother, Marie Turner, was my primary 4-H leader throughout those nine years. She did it all, beginning with being my ghost writer in speech, teaching me how to build an insect collection, and directing our club talent show entries. My dad, James Turner, was not only my advisor in farm-related projects but also never objected to my being away while involved in 4-H activities on summer days when he really needed me to work on the farm.

*In regards to the farm, one of the most valuable liessons I learned in a 4-H project was that I didn’t want to make a living raising tobacco. It had nothing to do with public health. The work was just too hard and too sticky. I also figured out through electricity and woodworking projects that I wasn’t cut out to use my hands for a job that didn’t involve notetaking or typing.

And the list goes on.

4-H was my life for nine wonderful years, Sixty years later, what I learned and experienced in 4-H is fully integrated in virtually every phase of     my daily activities.

It’s officially 4-H Week. For me, every day is 4-H Life.




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