Building for the Second Fifty Years

It was a glorious celebration of the first 50 years during our conference in Grand Rapids, in early November. The Michigan members deserve our thanks for providing a high quality professional improvement conference with an eye to the future. They also provided the setting for the 50thAnniversary committee to do their magic, bringing our past accomplishments to life. 

A record number of life members participated, and quite likely a record number of past Presidents, Association Board members, regional contacts, task force chairs and host state conference committee members. It is on their work and that of countless others that our association was built. We owe them all a tremendous debt of gratitude. In particular, the charter members should be congratulated for seeing the professional strength and support which could be gained through a national association. It was news to me to hear they based this decision on their individual experiences in a number of state associations, including the New England 4-H workers association. Some of these can be traced back to 1922. You can see that our foundation is made on some very strong professional bedrock. 

We’ve come a long way in our first 50 years, but not all at once. Twenty agents from a dozen states attended the first meeting in 1946. Meetings were held in Chicago at the time of the National 4-H Congress for the first 14 years. Our president in 1955, Merle Eyestone said that “Back then it was so small that you couldn’t skip out of an association meeting because everyone would see you.” It was 1971 before we reached 1,000 in membership and the Strategic Long Range Plan (SLRP) was drafted by the 1990 board. 

For just over 20 years we have rotated the meeting location around the four regions, and are preparing for the fist ever joint gathering of all four Extension professional groups. We now typically have over 1,000 participate in our national conference from our 3,000+ membership. The SLRP has been internalized so that it serves as a guide for all of our reports and accomplishments. 

It’s certainly 50 years of quality professional improvement construction. Changes and challenges are certain to continue for all of us a individuals, as an association, and as a profession. Many of those that made commitments to our association and the 4-H Youth Development profession during the first 50 years are still giving what they can to the association. However, we need the commitment of everyone else as well, if we are to take the association on behalf of the profession, into the 21st century. It will require work on common goals from everyone throughout our diverse membership. 

We have the opportunity to add to the foundation of the first 50 years. We can reinforce our ground floor, while creating new professional improvement floors and walls, taking the association to new levels. (The timing may even be right for additions.) There is a saying to the effect that it takes no training or commitment to tear down a building (or an association). Anyone can be a part of a task of destruction. However it takes highly trained craftsman with vision and a willingness to give great effort, to build something that lasts and lasts. The challenge before all of us is to make some personal and professional commitment as builders for our profession. I am proud to be part of an association with so many people who so freely give of themselves to the construction of the youth development profession. Join me as together we serve as craftsmen for the association. Together we can build so much as we start the next 50 years of NAE4-HA.