Flag raising at the Empire School, 1950’s. Photo courtesy Empire Ranch Foundation

From 1932 to 1936 the “Empire Merry Makers,” contributed articles for an Arizona Daily Star column reporting on 4-H Club activities in Pima County. 4-H in Arizona began in 1913 with a club in Chandler. The University of Arizona Agriculture Experiment Station organized 12 statewide clubs in 1914 and by 1915 a U of A extension agent was working full time with boys and girls clubs that were mostly organized through schools. In the 1930’s the activities of the Pima County 4-H clubs were directed by the University of Arizona Agricultural Extension Service and included “the training of the head, heart, hand, and health.” [AZ Daily Star, 2/14/1932].

The Merry Makers attended the Empire School, located on Greaterville Road, which operated from 1917 to 1965. It drew students from Gardner and Box Canyons and the ranches and homesteads in this southernmost portion of Pima County. The Merry Makers’ articles focused on the club and Empire School activities and local events. The authors included Lucy Amarillas, Lena C. Buck, Frank Dojaquez, Eva Ferra, Isabel Greenburg, Harold E., Walter and Seymour Thurber, Fern Stock, and Anne, Lydia, and Angelita Young. The adult club leader in 1932 was Miss Agnes Krentz, Empire School teacher. 

For a couple of years articles at the start of the school year documented the number of students enrolled and described how they got to school. In 1933, the four Amarillas and two Romero children took the bus to school; the four Dojaquez children arrived on three donkeys; the three Youngs rode two horses. The three Kennedys walked part way and got a ride with Miss Krentz the rest of the way, and Martin Ruiz and the three Thurbers walked unless they could hitch a ride. [AZ Daily Star 4/3/1933] In 1934 most of the children arrived on a bus that picked up those who lived in Gardner and Box canyons. Seymour Thurber rode his bike and Isabel Greenburg rode her black horse, Prince. [AZ Daily Star, 10/21/1934]

In 1932, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth, the Merry Makers’ activities included compiling a recipe book for “each mother and housekeeper” in the district [AZ Daily Star, 2/14/1932], and planting a cottonwood tree and some flowers. [AZ Daily Star, 3/13/1932] Robert Amarillas, president, was the only boy in the club that year. He and all the girls completed their sewing projects by the end of the school year. 

Eva Ferra, who lived with her grandparents on the Empire Ranch kept up the contributions during the summer, writing mostly about what she was learning from working for Mrs. Mary Boice and Empire Ranch happenings. 

Four boys joined the club in the Fall of 1932 making it possible to consider new activities, such as camping. [AZ Daily Star,10/23/1932] 

When school started the next year seven girls and ten boys joined and Ruth Downs was their teacher. [AZ Daily Star, 10/8/1933] In 1934 the boys’ primary activity was the planting of a cactus garden which was unfortunately ruined by Martin Ruiz’s two burros a few weeks later. [AZ Daily Star, 1/21 & 2/12/1934] The Thurber boys, whose father owned the Thurber Hereford Ranch were the only children reported to be raising calves and entering them in 4-H competitions. The club was especially proud when Seymour’s calf “Independence” won 3rd place in the Tucson livestock show of 1935.

Major community events reported included the establishment of a reforestation camp in Box Canyon [AZ Daily Star, 5/21/1933]; the completion of the new Box Canyon Road by the Civilian Conservation Corps [AZ Daily Star, 5/6/1934]; a major flood washing out all the fences in Empire Canyon [AZ Daily Star, 9/8/1935]; and the building of H.B. Thurber’s concrete cellar with a 1,500 gallon water tank installed above. [AZ Daily Star, 5/11/1936]

Though the 4H Activities section of the Star continued into the 1940s, articles by the Empire Merry Makers ceased in 1936. Other active groups included the Vail Villagers, the Pantano Stitch in Time, the Sahuarita Sunshiners, and the Greaterville Prospectors.