Longest-serving Ohio 4-H volunteer’s experience inspires others

Charlotte Wagner 4-H volunteer
This 2013 photo shows Charlotte Wagner, left, posing with 4-H club members after planting flowers for a community service project. (OSU CFAES photo)

April is National Volunteer Month.

LOWELL, Ohio — Like thousands of other Ohio children, Charlotte Wagner joined a local 4-H club when she was 9 years old.

Today, 75 years later, 4-H remains part and parcel of Wagner’s life, as she recently celebrated 69 years as a 4-H volunteer.

“I always enjoyed 4-H so much,” Wagner said. “It’s a valuable program, and I’m glad to have had a part in seeing it continue. I still enjoy being around the kids and meeting their parents. It’s a great thing.”

Remarkable service

Wagner’s service is remarkable among volunteers for Ohio 4-H Youth Development, said Tom Archer, assistant director of Ohio State University Extension in charge of 4-H programs. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Last year, 17,836 adult volunteers were actively involved in Ohio 4-H. While Wagner’s 69 years of service now make her the longest-serving Ohio 4-H volunteer, 11 others have now served the organization for 60 or more years, Archer said. An additional 4,693 youth volunteered their time in 4-H programs.

Wagner has been a volunteer in both categories.

“I started volunteering when I was a teenager and was still in 4-H myself,” said Wagner, now 84. “A new club was organized in our community, and they asked if I would be a junior leader.

“It met up on the ridge near where I lived, where I used to walk to Sunday school. I helped with that club during my last three years of 4-H, and they count that time toward my total years of volunteering.”

The club that Wagner joined as a 9-year-old and is now advising was chartered in 1922 as the Buckeye Canning Club, then changed its name to the Lowell Girls’ 4-H Club, she said. In the 1960s, members decided to change the name again to the Lowell Lively Lassies, and then later, when boys joined the club, to the Lowell Lively Lassies and Lads.

It is one of three Washington County 4-H clubs that have been continuously active since 1922, Wagner said.

As a 4-H member, Wagner concentrated on cooking, baking and sewing projects.

“I won a large Sears and Roebuck pressure canner one year — I won the top award in the county,” Wagner said. “I’ve used that canner ever since. It’s in perfect working order.”

In her first sewing project, she made a tea towel and a dust cloth, she said. Those initial rudimentary skills improved with experience, and in her final year, Wagner made herself a wool suit.

“I got married in 1950, and wore that suit as my going-away outfit for our honeymoon,” she said.

Wagner continued to assist with the 4-H club through her adult years, when her daughter was a member and then when her granddaughters joined. She took the lead when the former adviser stepped down after 43 years of service. More recently, she has also served on the county 4-H advisory committee, this year as its president.

Volunteers are essential

Archer said the role of volunteers is an essential one for the 4-H program.

“The 4-H experience could not happen without adult and teen volunteers who advise and lead our local 4-H programming,” Archer said. “There are an average of over 1,000 4-H members in most of Ohio’s counties, each of which has only one 4-H professional.

“If it were not for volunteers, there is no way that 4-H could have the reach, educational programming, coordination and staffing of events, and overall impact that it does in preparing youth for a successful future.”

For more about Ohio 4-H, see ohio4H.org.

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