From 4-H’er to 4-H leader

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Stephen Heppe Wayne County Fair
Stephen Heppe never wanted his time in 4-H to end, so he decided to make a career out of it. Heppe currently works as a 4-H program assistant for Wayne County Extension and serves on the senior fair board of his hometown fair in Portage County. (Catie Noyes photo)

WOOSTER, Ohio — Stephen Heppe never wanted his time in 4-H to end. From showing livestock projects, to being a 4-H ambassador in his youth, some of his best memories came from the Portage County 4-H program. So Heppe decided to make a career out of it — by becoming an OSU Extension 4-H program assistant in Wayne County.

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Q. Has 4-H always been a part of your life?

A. “I really did grow up in it,” said Heppe. “My grandfather was really involved as a 4-H club adviser and my mother and uncle have served on the Portage County fair board.”

While in 4-H, Heppe showed goats, sheep, hogs and cattle and entered crop projects at the Portage County Fair.

He served as a 4-H ambassador, was a member of 4-H Teen Leadership Council and held various offices on the Portage County junior fair board and is now a member of the Portage County senior fair board.

Along with his mother, Debi Heppe, Stephen assists with the junior fair auctions for both Summit and Portage county fairs.

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Q. How did you become a 4-H program assistant?

Stephen Heppe Wayne County Fair sale
Stephen Heppe assists with the Wayne County Junior Fair Livestock Sale Sept. 13. (Catie Noyes photo)

A. “I was pretty open in life,” said Heppe who studied agriculture education and extension at Ohio State University.

“I liked working with kids. I did student teaching at West Branch High School (in Mahoning County) and I really enjoyed that,” he said.

While in college, he worked for the Ohio 4-H office and shortly after college took a temporary job in the Portage County Extension Office and then the Mahoning County Extension Office.

When a full-time position became available in the Wayne County office, Heppe applied, and now works with OSU Extension 4-H Educator Doug Foxx to build the county’s youth development program.

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Q. What is a day in the life for a 4-H program assistant?

A. “No day is ever the same. The 4-H program is so seasonal, always moving from one thing to the next,” said Heppe.

Most his job involves working with various committee members and 4-H club advisers to make sure they are updated on any changes to the county 4-H program and have everything they need to get their members ready for the fair.

The spring and summer involves planning for 4-H camp, late summer is fair season in Wayne County and the fall is all about getting opinions and planning for the next year.

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Q. What is one of your favorite activities to plan?

A. “Camp is like a microcosm of creativity and orneriness that comes out. It’s good clean fun and I love it,” he said. Heppe helps plan the Wayne County 4-H Camp at 4-H Camp Ohio, in St. Louisville.

“We do hands-on leadership activities and teach kids how they can be a leader and a better person,” he said. “It’s five days of fun.”

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Q. Where can people find you during fair week?

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A. During the Wayne County Fair, you’re likely to find Heppe running from barn to barn, making sure animals get weighed in, shows run smoothly and sale results are recorded.

“If there are any questions about rules, I’m usually the first responder,” he said.

“I work with different committee members to find out who is going to do each thing and make sure it is going to get done.”

Late nights are spent in the junior fair office, having evening meetings once the fair winds down for the day and assisting with recording results from the junior fair shows and sale.

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Stephen Heppe Wayne County Fair
When Heppe isn’t assisting fair activities, he likes to watch the junior fair shows and see young 4-H’ers take pride in their projects. (Catie Noyes photo)

Q. What is your favorite part of the fair?

A. “My favorite part of the fair is sitting down and watching the (junior fair) shows,” he said.

“Seeing what goes into that, the time preparing, the dedication, the learning, and seeing the light in their eyes when they are showing off that animal that they have worked all summer with.”

Even though Heppe doesn’t work directly with 4-H members when it comes to preparing for the fair, knowing that he had a hand in making those moments possible, by having a county 4-H program, makes him proud.

Heppe also enjoys visiting other county fairs and seeing the pride and tradition each county shows off. “Each fair has their own way of doing things,” he said. “I love going around and seeing some of the exhibits and open class displays.”

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Q. What has 4-H done for you?

A. “4-H has essentially opened the door to my career,” said Heppe.

From his years as a 4-H ambassador, learning proper etiquette at the dinner table, to attending 4-H camp and learning how to open up and meet new people, “and just be a good person,” Heppe wants other youth to experience those rewarding moments.

“I want to give (other 4-H’ers) those opportunities — to learn what type of a person they are and make that best attribute even better,” he said.

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