Arkansas 4-H Alumni Association honors longtime leader for 40 years of service
Sept. 14, 2022
By Rebekah Hall
U of A System Division of Agriculture
- Barbara Nelson joined Alumni Association in its founding year, 1982
- Nelson served for eight years as the Association’s second president
- Nelson’s mother, father were also 4-H alumni and supporters
(Newsrooms: With art at https://flic.kr/p/2nLGCnN. ‘Ettamarie’ in par. 6 is c.q.)
FERNDALE, Ark. — Many former 4-H members remain involved with the youth development program long after they age out, ensuring new generations benefit from the program’s hands-on learning opportunities. On Aug. 6, the Arkansas 4-H Alumni Association honored Barbara Nelson for 40 years of service to the organization, which supports the Natural State’s 4-H programs.
Nelson, 79, joined the Arkansas 4-H Alumni Association when it was established in 1982. She was elected as chair of the association in 1985, only the second person to hold the position, and served in the role for eight years. Nelson said that after seeing the impact 4-H had on three generations of her family, she knew she wanted to give back to the program.
“Having seen my brother and sisters and what they accomplished, the projects that my mom and dad had us do, and after watching my kids grow up in it, to me it was quite worth it to give alumni another way to help 4-Hers,” Nelson said.
“I’ve always felt like 4-H has been well worth any time anybody puts in it, and it’s just good for the kids,” she said. “You get to see them grow up, and you get to see them start off scared to death to give a presentation, but in two years, they’re standing up and telling you anything they want to tell you.”
The Alumni Association supports 4-H and gives former 4-H members the opportunity to stay involved in the program. They provide two $500 scholarships each year to graduating 4-H members, and their innovative grant program provides up to $200 to four clubs each year for community projects. The association also sponsors the brick 4-H Memory Walk at the C.A. Vines Arkansas 4-H Center, along with other projects, including their support of the Arkansas Hospitality Suite at the National 4-H Congress.
Ettamarie Belden, current president of the Arkansas 4-H Alumni Association, said Nelson’s history as a teacher and passion for 4-H have made her an important source of support.
“She’s the best,” Belden said. “She has so much experience, and she’s so dedicated. She’s just very community oriented, somebody who could always be depended on. She’s the kind of teacher that you want.”
4-H runs in the family
Nelson was a member of the New Providence-Turley 4-H club in the Lodge Corner community of Arkansas County starting in the late 1940s, where she worked on clothing, dairy cattle and “personal improvement” projects, such as public speaking. Her mother, Gladys Kennedy, served as the main 4-H leader, and Nelson’s brother and sisters were also involved.
After leaving Arkansas for a few years while she and her husband were stationed at different Army bases, Nelson earned a Bachelor’s in Education from Henderson State Teacher’s College in 1964. This led to a 50-year career in public education. She worked as a schoolteacher from 1965 to 1995, served five years on the DeWitt School Board and worked for 18 years as an adjunct instructor at Phillips County Community College, now part of the University of Arkansas System. She also earned her Master’s in Education from the University of Arkansas in 1978.
In 1973, Nelson’s sons Ken and Mike became interested in 4-H, and the family joined the Eager Beavers 4-H club in Fordyce, where Nelson became a 4-H leader. The family moved to Watson in 1977, where they helped start one of the first integrated 4-H club in the state, the Warriors.
“We had some really good 4-Hers,” Nelson said. “Everybody cooperated with everybody else, and it was a fun time.”
Mike and Ken both went on to earn state and national recognition for 4-H achievements. Nelson was a 4-H club leader for 35 years for her local “Spirit of 76” club in Arkansas County. She has eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Her grandchildren participated in poultry, shooting sports, bicycle safety and other local 4-H programs. Her oldest grandson, W. Trevor Nelson, was a county officer, a state Teen Leader, and a state and national winner for his project “Rice for Ducks,” for which he received an achievement plaque from then U.S. President George W. Bush. Mike Nelson said the great-grandchildren will all be “encouraged to join and participate in 4-H when they are old enough.”
Nelson’s family history with 4-H also includes her father, Holland Leroy “HL” Kennedy. Mike Nelson said his family has a record of Kennedy participating in 4-H starting in 1925 at age 14, just 17 years after the start of 4-H club work in Arkansas in 1908. Kennedy received a 75-year distinction award from the alumni association for his lifelong support of the program.
Decades of service and support
Nelson said she “would not change a thing” about her years of service to the alumni
association and the 4-H program, and that she was “flabbergasted” when she was recognized
“I never thought about it being 40 years with the alumni association,” she said. “I just can’t believe I’m quite that old yet. But it’s time well spent, and I wouldn’t change a bit of it.”
John Thomas, managing director of the Arkansas 4-H Foundation, said the support of alumni like Nelson is crucial to the state’s 4-H program.
“Arkansas 4-H alumni are an invaluable resource to the continued success of the 4-H program,” Thomas said. “Barbara is a great example of that. We are so grateful for her and her legacy of giving back to the next generation of Arkansas 4-H youth.”
4-H is a youth development program operated by the Cooperative Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. The program teaches participants life skills through the “learn by doing” model. Program participants gain knowledge through non-formal, science-based, experiential education activities.
To learn more about Arkansas 4-H and its programs, visit the Arkansas 4-H website.
To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uada.edu. Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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