There never was a better place to be a kid. Pattie Oliver knew it then, and she knows it now, having spent the better part of eight decades in the shadow of Mount Wrightson.
Living on the KJ Ranch brought freedom and unfettered opportunity to explore the hills around Harshaw on her horse named Red.
But she was schooled early on the flipside of that coin—responsibility and hard work. Those were lessons learned as a nine-year-old in 4-H.
Parents Jane and Bill Holbrook started the area’s first 4-H chapter—the Apache 4-H Club. The year was 1949. And back then, project options for the six or seven youngsters enrolled in the local chapter were limited to “beef” or “sewing.”
75 years later, the Mustang 4-H Club, as it is now known, boasts 106 members and 16 projects. But one thing hasn’t changed—the core values the organization instills.
“The program brings so many opportunities for the kids,” said Lena Stephens, whose family first came to the area in the 1880s. The kids can learn about becoming veterinarians, welders or farmers, she noted. “They build these skills by doing hands-on projects in areas like science, health and agriculture.”
Those skills were on vivid display at the Sept. 15-17 Santa Cruz County Fair. Welding entries were plentiful and included saddle and hat racks, among others. Cooking talent was displayed in salad and pie submissions. Posters brought to life all things ‘cat,’ the anatomy of plants and how water is realized for human consumption. On Saturday and Sunday, the animals and youth of 4-H and FFA took center stage in the show arena. Oliver was ringside.
Exactly when or where Oliver’s parents first heard about 4-H isn’t known. She is certain, though, that her parents thought the organization would be good—a healthy thing—for their children and other area youth.
Oliver recalls the roster of local 4-H members including her brother, Kenneth William “Bucky” Holbrook Jr., Grace (Townsend) Wystrach, (Dr.) Richard Schorr and herself. While she took part in sewing—“I think I made an apron”—her true interest was the beef project.
“We each had a steer,” said Oliver of her brother and herself. Which meant they had to purchase the animals, groom them, walk them and teach them how to lead. Stalls had to be mucked, and feed mixed and deposited in bins.
“It was a lot of work,” she said, “if you do it right.”
The second year, she and her brother bought a heifer and bull and started their own breeding operation. She would go on to be part of the horse project. And she would later serve as a judge at the University of Arizona farm in Tucson. Oliver chuckles remembering judging chicken.
“We had chickens. Everyone had chickens. But I said, ‘Dad, I don’t know anything about chickens.’ And he said, ‘Just judge them, like a steer.’ So, I did and I won. Isn’t that silly?”
Oliver continued to participate in 4-H until the age of 18, with the exception of three years while she was away attending the Graham-Eckes School in Palm Beach, Florida. After she returned to Arizona and later married, Oliver would serve as a leader.
Including her parents, five generations of her family have been part of 4-H, for which they have been recognized by University of Arizona Cooperative Extension and Arizona 4-H. Oliver was inducted into the Arizona 4-H Hall of Fame in 2013.
While responsibility, hard work and citizenship remain at the core of the organization, some things have had to change. It goes with the times when not all youngsters have the luxury of land.
“You have kids today that maybe can’t have a steer, or their HOA doesn’t allow animals,” said Cami Cheatham Schlappy, a Mustang 4-H project co-leader. So now, youth interests and leader expertise determine the projects that get adopted. Still, agriculture projects do live on.
“My 12-year old daughter, Audrey, started in 4-H Cloverbuds when she was five,” said Lena Stephens. “She’s now 12, and she’s been showing pigs since she was nine. My two younger boys are both in Cloverbuds, and they plan to show in the future. I’m so thankful for this program.”
If you are interested in volunteering to lead a project or have a child interested in participating in 4-H, contact Dusti Prentice at email@example.com, or Cami Cheatham Schlappy, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone numbers, respectively, are (520) 508-1364 and (520) 240-1174.