Epitome of 4-H Club is retiring Leader: Bob Shirley began his 4-H career as a volunteer in 1957. Now, the 4-H agent considered a father figure by many members is leaving his post after almost 20 years.

March 29, 1998|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

For more than 40 years, Bob Shirley has exemplified the ideals behind 4-H: head, heart, hands and health.

Shirley, a 4-H Club agent who began his career in Carroll County as a volunteer in 1957, is retiring Tuesday.

His retirement has his bosses concerned about finding a successor. Shirley has been a father figure to thousands of county youths who have joined 4-H.

"Can't do it -- he's irreplaceable," David L. Greene, county extension director, replied tongue-in-cheek when asked about replacing Shirley. "So we're just going to give up.

"Whoever takes his place, it's going to be very difficult for them," Greene said, adding that a search has begun. "It's comparable to the guy who takes Cal Ripken's place."

Shirley, 63, has been a Carroll County 4-H agent since December 1978. As an agent, Shirley has started programs, juggled administrative duties and worked with youths.

Before becoming an agent, Shirley was a volunteer leader in Carroll, beginning in 1957.

He joined 4-H in Baltimore County when he was 10 and remained active with the group until he was 21. Then, youths could join at 10 and stay until 21; now, it's from ages 8 to 18.

"When I was 16, I showed a Clydesdale mare at the Chicago International Livestock Expo and placed fourth," he recalled. "The mare was the highest placing American Clydesdale."

In 1956, his parents moved from Reisterstown to a Frizzellburg dairy farm. After earning his bachelor's degree in animal husbandry from Cornell University in 1957, Shirley returned home to work on the farm.

His wife, Margaret, became a 4-H volunteer as well. He became the Frizzellburg Boys Club leader and started the Hoofbeat Saddle Club.

But it was as Carroll's 4-H agent that Shirley found his niche.

"I really have been associated with so many wonderful people and a lot of second-generation 4-H'ers," he said. "It really has been a very wonderful and satisfying experience to watch those young people grow to be successful in careers."

He credits the public speaking and leadership programs with helping youths most.

"Both of my kids went through 4-H, and the most important thing they learned was the ability to get up on their feet and speak to a group of any size, and I think that's one of the most important things we teach," Shirley said.

'Champion people'

"The main purpose of 4-H is to develop character, leadership and achievement in young people, and that's the bottom line to the whole thing," he said; "4-H is developing champion people as opposed to champion heifers or clothing."

Many activities were added after Shirley started.

"The late '70s and '80s is when the program really took off,"

Shirley said.

Among the activities were the therapeutic riding program, a prevention group that deals with youth problems, all-terrain vehicle safety, a member and volunteer recognition banquet, specialty clubs such as Fashion Trends and Outdoor Fun clubs, and fund-raisers.

Enrollment is usually more than 1,000 youths annually. Shirley calls the Carroll County 4-H program "the best in the state." The Carroll 4-H'ers win a number of awards at state and national events each year.

There are unforgettable events for Shirley.

He remembers buying a meal while on a convention trip for a youth whose family was poor.

"They got a meal allowance and he was squirreling it away, so I took him out and bought him a meal and reminded him that he needed to feed his body," Shirley said.

He recalled the pride of Amanda Boyd winning the J. C. Penney Golden Rule Award and Ginger Hull receiving the Presidential Tray, and the pain of Kim Baile's death in a car accident.

One 4-H'er who has been with Shirley for years is Denise Freberts-hauser, who spent 10 years in 4-H. She returned to 4-H 18 months ago as an extension educator.

"I called him my 4-H dad," she said. "I can't imagine 4-H without him. There will definitely be a void when he leaves."

As for a replacement, "you can't replace what he has in his head and his heart. It isn't in the books," she said.

Frebertshauser, well-known in the county for her 4-H work (she was Miss 4-H in 1987), may apply for Shirley's position.

To the Barbers, whose three sons have been involved in 4-H for 10 years, Shirley is "like a fixture. We're really going to miss him," Brenda Barber said.

"He's been great, he's always been there for the boys," she said. "My boys always looked up to him as a role model. He's got a very positive attitude and gives them the self-esteem they need."

'Friend of the Handicapped'

Through the years, Shirley has won several awards, many for the therapeutic riding program. The award he's proudest of is a plaque naming him "Outstanding Friend of the Handicapped" from the Special Population Support Group in 1993.

The therapeutic riding program is one of Shirley's projects. He works closely with the program, setting up the volunteer staff, getting horses and helping teach classes.

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