Tags: Geneva Linn
June 24, 2014 | 09:12 AMLINN — “The kids, it’s phenomenal, the projects they come up with.”
So said Sandi Pillman, general leader of the Linn 4-H Club, which turns 100 this year.
Pillman has been involved in the club for 22 years — not as long as fellow leader Donna Kundert, who has been involved in it at least 42 years.
On June 10, they went through the club’s list of 100th anniversary activities. Pillman said it’s hard “trying to keep our regular stuff, in conjunction with the anniversary stuff,” but it begged the question why are they still holding down active roles at the helm, along with two other general leaders — Lisa Lasch and Dan Kundert, Donna’s husband?
Pillman and Donna Kundert share the belief that 4-H helps children grow.
“Anybody who is a leader in 4-H, they need to be commended because they are helping children in so many ways,” said Kundert.
They told a story of one member who joined 4-H because a friend encouraged her. That friend “turned on her,” said Kundert, and became her enemy.
But when the member approached Kundert about quitting, she encouraged her to follow her interests. In the process, that member made some new friends.
She didn’t quit, said Kundert.
Perhaps it’s that kind of attitude that’s kept the Linn 4-H Club alive so long.
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“We have 59 members now, from 33 families, and I believe we have 21 project leaders,” Pillman said. “The membership goes up and down. I think we were at 88 at our highest.”
There were times when the fate of the club, largely based on how many people are involved in it, was uncertain.
When Pillman was asked to become a leader, Kundert said, “We didn’t want the club to fold, as so many of them often do.”
Pillman said she was “a city girl,” originally from Flint, Mich., who moved to Linn about 25 years ago.
“I had no affiliation with 4-H growing up. It started with my oldest boy.”
That’s Carlin, who was 8 when he joined 4-H because, as Sandi said, “it was like the thing to do” for local children. Sandi said she stayed involved because Kundert had asked her.
But her first encounter with 4-H was back in Flint.
“I had a friend who was in 4-H,” Sandi said. “I helped her wash a cow. You don’t want to wear flip-flops when you clean a cow.”
A common misconception about 4-H today is that it’s all about agriculture.
Pillman and Kundert agreed that the animal shows are a big part of the Walworth County Fair for many.
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Despite Pillman’s remarks about how she learns interesting things from member projects, such as how the color of a chicken’s ear lobes helps determine the color of its eggs, there are other areas of 4-H, including crafts, food and nutrition, photography, woodworking and robotics.
“There’s opportunities to go to Space Camp,” said Pillman.
Didn’t bleed green at first
Kundert said she “didn’t bleed green” when she first joined 4-H. She said she knows she was involved in the club at least since 1972, because of a club picture.
“I wasn’t one of your true-blue 4-H’ers, as I see kids now, how they are.”
Originally from Harvard, Ill., Kundert has lived in Linn since she was in third-grade.
She said what kept her involved in the club, at first, was her love of horses. She’s still a horseless horse leader.
When asked why she became a general leader, Kundert told a story about her first experience chaperoning a club trip to the state 4-H conference in Madison.
She said the club needed her to chaperone, otherwise they couldn’t make the trip. About 500 4-H’ers usually attend the conference. They go to seminars, stay in dorms, and “it was a college experience, to me.”
When the Linn 4-H club returned home, as they were leaving the bus, Kundert heard one boy say he didn’t think he’d be afraid to go to college anymore.
“It just hit me (that) he wouldn’t be able to have gone if I didn’t chaperone,” said Kundert. “I told myself I’d do it again.”
Perhaps it’s efforts such as these, by people like Pillman and Kundert, that have kept the club going strong for 100 years.
“I think it speaks volumes of what the program is,” said Pillman.