Becker County has had 4-H clubs for more than a century now, since about 1917-18. According to records from the University of Minnesota Extension Service, there were 162 4-H members that first year, and the clubs were called “Boys and Girls Clubs.”

“Clubs were organized in 13 schools, and memberships of 1 to 4 were received in other schools, making a total of 162 members,” states the Extension’s 4-H report for Becker County at the end of 1918.

“Because this county is so well adapted to potato raising and it requires little capital to start, this proved to be the most popular contest,” the report continues. “(A total of) $152 in prizes were offered by the county fair board for individual exhibits and county achievements… There were 43 exhibits of very good potatoes in the club department at the county fair. It might be said right here that more children exhibited potatoes than did the adults, and the exhibits were superior in quality and freedom from disease.”

In 1937, the 4-H clubs in Becker County were reorganized, and several new ones started. According to the Extension agent’s report from that year, the county had a total of 29 organized clubs, with an enrollment of 714 members. About 400 boys and girls exhibited their projects at the county fair that year, with 22 winning free trips to the Minnesota State Fair for their work.

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“The exhibitors from the county did very well at the State Fair, winning three first places,” the report states.

In 1938, 4-H club members organized a Harvest Festival at Lake Park, which was held Oct. 7-8. The 4-H members exhibited corn, potatoes and livestock. That year, the total county 4-H membership reached an all-time high of 987 boys and girls, with 41 organized and active clubs.

According to the county agent’s report, the largest club had a membership of 74 members, and seven others had enrollments ranging between 30 and 60.

In those early years, Becker County 4-H summer camps were conducted in a variety of places — until the late 1940s, when the county organization had an opportunity to acquire its first permanent home: The former Becker County Infirmary building.

According to a Jan. 5, 1949 letter written by Mrs. Hildor Dallum of Detroit Lakes to the National 4-H News, “After several years of holding our summer 4-H County Club Camps in various places, ranging from an abandoned CCC Camp, [to] renting several cottages near a lake — one for cooking, the others for sleeping — to the American Legion Clubhouse, we local leaders and club members and our county and club agent began to talk and plan and dream of the day when we could have a clubhouse of our own. The camps we had held in the past were very successful, and the boys and girls gained much in education, recreation and sociability, but it meant a lot of hard work and planning.”

It was when the summer camp was held at the American Legion clubhouse in 1945, she wrote, that the 4-H leaders and club members got their first look at what would become their new home: “A large, empty, abandoned building” on the Becker County Fairgrounds.

“It had been the County Old Peoples’ Home, but had been abandoned about eight years previous because the county board felt the cost of making necessary repairs was too great, as some new regulation had been made concerning homes for the aged,” Mrs. Dallum wrote.

But for the needs of the Becker County 4-H organizers, the building was just about perfect, in terms of size and location, being both in the midst of the fairgrounds and within walking distance to the lake.

“We were determined not to let the building slip away through any fault of ours,” Mrs. Dallum wrote — so the 4-H council went before the Becker County Board to request that the building be donated to Becker County 4-H directly. After listening to their arguments, the board granted their request.

The building remained in 4-H ownership from 1948 until about 1961.

Detroit Lakes Tribune columnist Ralph Anderson, in one of his 1979 columns, said that “the building was dismantled as the result of a resolution passed by the Becker County Board of Commissioners on Oct. 4, 1961.”

In a column by County 4-H Extension Agent Larry Swenson that was printed in the Becker County Record on March 11, 1990, the reasoning behind the demolition was made clearer: A local police officer, while checking out a vandalism tip in the building, had fallen through the floor, prompting the board to offer a $350 contract to Vernon Brogren to demolish and remove the building from the fairgrounds.

In 1979, a new 4-H clubhouse was built at the fairgrounds, at a cost of about $35,000. According to Anderson’s column, the one-story, cement block building included restrooms and a club meeting room,which would be heated and available for use throughout the year.

A research project done by the Becker County Extension office in 2018 indicates that membership in Becker County 4-H had once again swelled to nearly 900 members in the late 1970s, with 36 active clubs. By the early 2000s, that number had dwindled to around 250 members, with about 15 active clubs.

Participation in 4-H has been on the rise again for the past couple of years, according to Becker County Extension Office Manager Linda Perrine. Current membership stands at 377, with 212 participating families and 19 clubs.

This year at the fair

The Becker County Fair is taking place a little later than usual this year, from Wednesday, Aug. 7 through Saturday, Aug. 10 — which means judging for several 4-H events happened up to three weeks before the fair got underway.

For instance, judging for the 4-H fashion revue, food revue, clothing construction, and Youth in Action demonstrations took place on July 23.

“But we’ll be having a public fashion revue during the fair, at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 10,” says Becker County 4-H Coordinator Gina Schauer, who is sharing the duties with Leigh Nelson-Edwards this year.

And even though the 4-H performing arts competition already took place on July 25, there will be a public performing arts showcase held Aug. 10 at 2:30 p.m.

“Both the fashion revue and performing arts showcase will be held under the Big Tent,” says Schauer.

The 4-H Horse Drill Team regional competition took place in mid-July at the Strait Rail Ranch in Nevis, and both of Becker County‘s teams qualified for state competition this year, giving them the opportunity to defend their 2018 state championship title.

To give county fairgoers an opportunity to see them in action, both drill teams are doing demonstrations during the fair, as well, on Aug. 10 in the Horse Arena, starting at 11 a.m.

“We’ll also be doing more demonstrations on the fairgrounds this year,” Schauer says, noting that various 4-H participants will be bringing their animals out of the barns and showcasing them for the public outside of the competition arena, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons, Aug. 8-10.

Regular 4-H competitions taking place during the fair include the rabbit, poultry and swine shows on Aug. 7; the market goat, sheep, lamb and beef shows on Aug. 8; the horse show, dairy goat and dairy cattle shows on Aug. 9; and the “big event,” the market auction bidders breakfast, at 7:30 a.m. on Aug. 10, when kids will be putting their competition animals up for public bids.

“It’s a premium only auction,” says Schauer, which means that the winning bids will go toward the competitors’ expenses in getting their animals show ready, and also for bringing them to the State Fair if they make it that far.

“The winners won’t be bringing the animals home,” she explains.

What does ‘4-H’ stand for?

What is the meaning behind the term, “4-H”? Most people who have taken part in the 4-H youth development programs offered through the University of Minnesota Extension know that it stands for “Head, Heart, Hands, Health.”

But what does that really mean? The pledge taken by each 4-H member provides a few clues:

I pledge

My Head to clearer thinking

My Heart to greater loyalty

My Hands to larger service

My Health to better living

For my club, my community, my country and my world.

The Michigan State University Extension breaks it down even further by closely examining each part of the pledge, and how it relates to youth.

  • “Head to clearer thinking”: One of the key concepts in 4-H is education, allowing youth the opportunity to learn new things through projects and programs. 4-H allows youth to be actively engaged in their own learning. In addition, 4-H makes youth participants, rather than recipients, in the learning process. One of the main goals in 4-H is to have youth develop life skills that help them succeed. Some of these life skills include leadership, responsibility, dedication, communication and self-confidence.

  • “Heart to greater loyalty”: In 4-H, youth are taught to be reliable and loyal in their heart and understand what is means to take responsibility for their projects and to follow through. 4-H also gives youth positive relationships with adults and peers through leaders and teens. Caring for others and their projects is also a trait that relates to the “H” for Heart.

  • “Hands for larger service”: 4-H’ers are busy with their hands all year long learning new things and caring for their projects with hands-on experiences. Another way 4-H’ers use their hands is by giving back to the community. Part of 4-H is teaching youth the importance of serving the community, country and world.

  • “Health to better living”: Knowing how to cook and grow food, and appreciating art allows 4-H’ers to gain an understanding of how the world works and how to live healthy. Projects such as photography, canning, arts and crafts, sewing, collections, and cooking help youth realize what it takes to have a healthy lifestyle and how to spend their leisure time. 4-H also strives to make sure youth are physically and emotionally safe.