Skills in West Friendship 4-H range far beyond basic farming

February 24, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

The West Friendship 4-H Club has come full circle in 50 years, from collecting tin cans for the war effort to collecting cans, bottles and jars to help save the environment.

But the more things stay the same -- raising champion produce and livestock, canning preserves -- the more things change, hurtling what used to be a strictly rural entity into the Information Age.

"Probably over half of the members of the club have nothing to do with agriculture or livestock anymore," said David Nuenke, 13, a member since 1990 who lives near Glenelg.

Besides being named county grand champion for entomology for his insect collection, David earned the title of state junior champion for designing "an alternative interface for the Macintosh using Hypercard," he said.

For the less-than-computer-literate, David's accomplishment was designing a program that makes a computer easier to use.

The club's activities, which started with livestock, now cover 30 different areas, and members are involved in about 75 projects, said Sam Seymour, the club's organizational leader.

"Diversity is one of the things were very proud of," he said.

"We do a lot of community service, from helping Central American refugees to African orphans."

Just as the club's projects have changed, so too, has the county, which is reflected in the club's dwindling membership of a few years ago.

As the county became more suburban, some of the club's more prominent families sold their farms and moved to more rural areas to keep farming.

Some who have stayed, such as the Moxleys, have remained on their farms but have changed with the times.

Rob Moxley, who won national 4-H honors for citizenship in 1977, is now helping his father, James Moxley, run a development company. He also is chairman of the county Agricultural Land Preservation Advisory Board and and a member of the county Democratic Central Committee.

With fewer farmers and farm children in the county, the club was down to 15 members five years ago when Mr. Seymour took over.

Now the club has about 70 members and is among the largest of the county's 26 4-H clubs.

Sharon Murray, mother of current club President Jason Murray, 16, witnessed the transition.

"When we first came in, it was quite a bit smaller than it currently is, and I would say 100 percent agriculturally oriented.

"If you joined the club on this side of the county, you expected it to be an agricultural club, and the primary interest was in animals," says Mrs. Murray, who herself belonged to 4-H in Montgomery County.

"And now, it's almost reversed. I would say the percentage [of farm-oriented members] is not only small, but a lot of them are like us; we're what you call the 'backyard farmers,' with 3 acres," Mrs. Murray said.

"It's quite varied these days, there is literally something there for everybody."

The club was founded July 15, 1943, as the West Friendship Victory Workers 4-H Club with the help of the Beatrice Cissel, who later remarried and became Bea Pfefferkorn.

One of the club's current members, Alison Pfefferkorn, is the late Bea Pfefferkorn's grandniece.

In its first year, the club collected 4 tons of paper and tin cans, according to a 1944 newspaper clipping saved by the club.

Two years ago, the revitalized club was collecting recyclables when the county government had yet to begin curbside collection in west county.

In recent years, the club's members have participated in everything from drug abuse prevention to photography to 4-H standards, such as sheep breeding and food preservation.

Even though the themes have evolved and become more urban, Mr. Seymour says, the basic principle of the club remains.

"We try to give the members a good sense of community, a good sense of themselves," he said.

As a member learns a skill, be it raising capons or writing software, "4-H encourages you to share that skill with others," he said.

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