For alumni, 4-H ‘is in my blood’

Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Damien Schwoeppe of St. Henry leans back as he tugs with his team during Thursday's tug of war competition at the Dubois County 4-H Fairgrounds in Bretzville. Schwoeppe's daughters, Tatum, 6, and Teagan, 2, cheered "go daddy" from the sidelines.


When 4-H youth graduate, they go off to different places across the world in a number of different careers. Many though, come back to help the program that gave so much to their lives.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” said Damien Schwoeppe of St. Henry. “It’s also a great way to meet new people.”

Schwoeppe showed dairy cows when he was in 4-H. He now enjoys watching his two daughters grow up in the program.

“I hope they are able to get as much out of it as I did as a kid,” he said.

Two weeks ago, Dubois County 4-H Youth Development Educator Lisa Wilson launched a Dubois County 4-H Alumni group on Facebook to help alumni connect with each other and encourage them to return to volunteer with the program. The group now has over 160 members.

“We graduate about 80 4-H’ers every year and we don’t want to lose sight of those 4-H’ers because they know a lot about the program and can give us a lot of insight,” Wilson said. “Our 4-H alumni have the passion for the program and we need to have people that understand the program and to help lift it up and help it be the best that it can be.”

Ernest Mehling hasn’t missed a fair in over 40 years. All four of his kids and with his eight brothers and sisters were 10-year members of 4-H. He returns to the fair year after year to watch his grandchildren compete in the goat and swine shows.

“The biggest thing was the kids,” he said. “Watching the kids grow up in 4-H is just special. I probably have more fun out here than the kids do sometimes.”

Mehling, who grew up in Ferdinand and now lives in St. Anthony, showed swine during his time in 4-H. He eventually came back and served as a 4-H leader for 25 years, during which he also served on the swine committee.

He has been a part of the fair for so long that now the kids he watched grow up are back with their own kids.

“We will always be here for this,” he said. “No matter what.”

Mehling’s son, Shaun Mehling, joined 4-H to meet people from other schools in the county, some of which he is still friends with to this day.

“If I could be, I’d still be in 4-H,” the St. Anthony resident said.

Fair week was the week he waited for all year. It was their family vacation. He said he hopes kids nowadays feel the same way.

Shaun has three kids in 4-H with a fourth entering next year. His kids show pygmy goats at the fair.

He believes 4-H is important because it teaches them essential life skills.

“The responsibility of being able to take care of something is important,” he said. “It’s the same kind of concept with raising kids.”

Julie Hurst of St. Anthony shuttled all three of her kids into the 4-H program after being involved herself for 10 years. Now she is a 4-H leader and helps youth with projects, and conducts community service and fundraisers.

“It taught me to not be afraid to talk to others and get up in a crowd,” she said of her time in 4-H. “I was able to get outside into those areas I wasn’t very fluent in.”

Hurst said she wanted to be more involved in the community as a lot of her friends were in 4-H at the time.

“I was more of a crafty person, so I did a lot of rug hooking along with learning how to bake and cook,” she said.

Karla Brumfield took on 15 to 20 projects every year when she was in 4-H.

“We’d stay up until 2 a.m. the night before the fair trying to complete them all,” she said.

She returns every year to the fair to volunteer. The fair is always in need of volunteers to serve as building watchers, help check in projects, hand out ribbons and judge projects.

She comes from a family of 4-H’ers, with her parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and now children involved in the program. Her mother, Doris Eck, was a 4-H leader for almost 20 years. Her brother, Ken Eck, is the agriculture and natural resources educator for the Dubois County Purdue Extension.

4-H gave Brumfield a goal to work toward, she said, and molded her into a good, responsible person.

“It’s in my blood,” she said. “I love going to the fair. This is the week that I look forward to every year.”

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