Head, heart, hands and health. That’s what the four H’s stand for in 4-H.
More than 100 years ago in 1902, 4-H was founded to teach children and youth practical skills they could use to serve their community. Today, there are nearly six million members in 4-H clubs across the United States.
There are also approximately 3,500 professionals and 500,000 volunteers who keep 4-H going from day to day.
One of those volunteers is Vernon resident Patsy Holden. Holden has been involved in 4-H in one way or another for most of her life.
“I grew up in the south end of Tooele County on a cattle ranch 50 miles away from the closest town,” she said. “My mother taught my sister and I school because we didn’t want to leave the ranch and go to town [for school]. … We had a wonderful life. I think it was a very privileged life.”
A big part of Holden’s life was 4-H.
“I showed show steers,” she said. “I loved it. I had a wonderful experience.”
Holden loved 4-H so much she wanted her children to experience it too. After she got married, she and her husband moved to Vernon and started a family. When her oldest son turned eight — the minimum age for participation in 4-H — Holden knew it was time to get back into the club.
She decided to start a 4-H club in Vernon. The first courses she taught were in horsemanship and showing livestock.
The club was an instant success.
“My goodness … we had 25-30 kids that first year. And before we were through, over half the livestock in the county show was from Vernon,” she said.
Holden particularly enjoyed teaching horsemanship.
“We’d take trail rides up to the Sheeprocks,” she said. “My husband helped me with it — he’d take mothers and bedding and food to our camps in his truck.” The Sheeprocks is a mountain range a few miles southwest of Vernon.
While her husband and the children’s mothers helped transport food and bedding, fathers helped Holden with the riders.
“We would truck the horses up to the mouth of the canyon on the north side of the Sheeprocks and ride up over the top of the Sheeprocks,” she said. “It was probably a 12-mile ride on some pretty rugged terrain, but it was also a very good trail we were on, and I had enough parents to help me. I was in the lead and the dads would be scattered among the kids, so if anybody needed help, they were right there.”
Holden recalled one humorous occasion when a young rider got stuck on a downhill slope. The little boy was riding a Shetland pony when the pony got stuck and knelt down, patiently waiting to be rescued. The boy panicked and started yelling that the pony was dead.
“This was a first-year child,” Holden said. “He was eight. … The little pony was fine — in fact he was ours, he belonged to our oldest son, but our oldest son had outgrown him.”
Holden calmed the boy down, helped the pony get unstuck and the ride continued without further incident.
“We had some wonderful experiences doing that,” she said. “I did that for years.”
In addition to humorous moments and wonderful experiences, the Vernon 4-H club has been life-changing for some members.
Holden will always remember one girl from Springville, who joined 4-H during a difficult time in her life. Normally, only Vernon residents are allowed to join the Vernon club, but Holden made an exception for the girl.
“Her mother contacted me and … said she was having a lot of trouble in school,” Holden said. “This was in the early 1980s. This mom said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do. The girls are bullying her at school. Can she show a steer in your club?’”
At the time, the Tooele County Junior Livestock Show required all calves to be raised within the county. Holden explained the situation to the mother and offered to keep the girl’s calf at her home along with her sons’ calves.
“I said, ‘You’ll have to bring her so she can work with the calf here,’” Holden said. “Her mother was a widow, [but] her mother brought her twice a week throughout that year. And that little girl won reserve champion steer with her calf. It was the most exciting thing I have ever seen to see all [her hard work] come to fruition.”
As the girl participated in 4-H, her outlook on life began to change.
“Her whole world changed,” Holden said. “The next year, she showed another calf and did the same thing. Her mother would bring her out and away they’d [she and her calf would] go. If my boys were … home, they’d go with her and they’d all exercise all their steers together.
“That was 4-H in action, in my opinion,” she added. “That’s some of the wonderful things that 4-H can do for the youth. That young lady never looked back. She went to college and got married. 4-H stopped the negativity and gave her something to hold on to. After she got married, she had two children, a daughter and a son, and they each showed steers at the Tooele County Junior Livestock Show.”
Holden enjoyed teaching 4-H while her sons grew up. After her youngest son turned 18, Holden briefly considered retiring from 4-H.
“I thought, ‘I think I’ll let it go,’ and suddenly before I knew it, I had grandchildren who were old enough for 4-H,” she said with a laugh.
It’s been 40 years since she first started the Vernon club, and Holden is still going strong. Thanks to a parent agreeing to donate her time, Holden has added arts and crafts to the list of activities the club members learn.
One of the most rewarding things about 4-H is watching the kids develop new skills and confidence.
“The kids are so thrilled [to show their livestock],” Holden said. “They love it. It’s so fun.”
Holden also gives her club members plenty of opportunities to serve others. Last year, the Vernon club visited an elementary school in Eureka to teach the students how agriculture impacts their everyday lives.
“Almost every member of my club was able to participate,” she said.
On the outside of the school, club members set up a miniature petting zoo with baby lambs, baby goats, and young pigs. On the inside, the youth set up a table with items the students might recognize from their everyday lives.
“We had steak, for instance,” Holden said. “And I talked to them about the importance of wheat in our diet and … how many agricultural products are in a pizza. It was really a blast; we just had a wonderful time. I hope to do that again.”
When the town of Vernon needed funds to build a Veterans memorial, Holden’s 4-H club decided to sell baskets on the Fourth of July. The club members raised more than $1,000 for the project over the course of a few years. The memorial was dedicated on July 4, 2018.
“They’ve had a lot of fun, but they’ve also worked very hard,” Holden said. “It’s a very active club with lots of projects and service projects.”
Recently, Holden received her 40-year service pin from the 4-H club.
Robyn Handley, the 4-H youth development coordinator for the Tooele County-USU Extension Office, mentioned the milestone in the extension’s weekly “A Better Life” column published in the Jan. 2 edition of the Transcript Bulletin.
“We are so lucky to have one of the state’s most valuable 4-H volunteers here in Tooele County,” Handley wrote. “Patsy [Holden] is a legend at the 4-H office. I have heard countless stories of service and experiences she has created for the youth in Vernon. I cannot imagine how many lives she has touched through her service as a leader, encourager, teacher and friend.”
Holden attributes much of her club’s success to her parent helpers.
“The parental support was awesome and it still is to this day,” she said. “I couldn’t do this club if it wasn’t for all the wonderful parents that support it.”
Holden is also proud of everything her club members have done.
“I love these kids,” she said.