SPRINGFIELD, Ohio -- A.B. Graham would have been proud.
On a bright, cool August day, statues of Graham and two original 4-H'ers were unveiled at a new 4-H city "pocket park" in Springfield, tucked right next to the old county courthouse where Graham and the students first met for a Boys' and Girls' Agricultural Experiment Club on Jan. 15, 1902.
The Aug. 12 unveiling capped off the dedication of the park, which contains the life-size statues of Graham and two club members; four 14-foot-tall metal H's, each representing the four 4-H pledges; and a plaque commemorating the 4-H Pledge: "I pledge my head to clearer thinking; my heart to greater loyalty; my hands to larger service; and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world."
Keynote speaker Ann Veneman, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, said today's 4-H'ers come from rural areas, small towns, big cities and the suburbs. One-third are minorities. "But all share common values and beliefs of leadership, self-improvement, volunteerism and good citizenship," she said, adding that 4-H has grown into the largest youth development program in the world, with 90,000 clubs and 7 million young people participating worldwide.
Bobby Moser, vice president and dean of Ohio State University's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, which oversees Ohio 4-H and other programs of Ohio State University Extension, agreed. "Four-H is still in rural areas, but also in the cities and inner cities. The model that A.B. Graham started works with kids everywhere," he said.
Ohio's 4-H program has about 300,000 participants and about 26,000 volunteers who help guide the program, Moser said, making the Ohio program among the top five in the nation.
Among the guests attending the dedication was 99-year-old Ann L. Spears, who, in 1972, married Theodore Spears, one of the original members of Graham's first club. One of the children depicted in the statues is based on Spears, said Bob Cripe, 4-H educator for Ohio State University Extension in Clark County.
"Theodore was always a big supporter of 4-H, speaking at many 4-H events through the years," Cripe said. Also attending the event were descendents of A.B. Graham, including grandchildren James Graham, Richard Graham, and Barbara Sydnor.
Officially, National 4-H Headquarters doesn't credit any one person or location with starting 4-H, instead crediting a movement of youth clubs that sprouted up in areas around the country at the turn of the century. But at the park dedication, Mike Haubner, agriculture, natural resource and community development educator for OSU Extension in Clark County, reminded the audience of many reasons why Springfield's claim of being the birthplace of 4-H has historic significance. He said that as the 50th anniversary of 4-H was approaching, the U.S. Congress hired a historian to work for two years on documenting the history of the organization. In letters written to Graham in 1949 and in 1950, the historian stated that, according to his findings, "you (Graham) should have priority of date" in the founding of 4-H.
"In addition, on Jan. 15, 1952, the only 4-H stamp ever issued was issued here in Springfield, Ohio," in commemoration of 4-H's fiftieth anniversary -- exactly 50 years after Graham's club first met.
Also, Graham -- who was superintendent of Springfield Township schools when he started the clubs -- spread the concept around the state and the nation in his later roles with Ohio State University Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
After the ceremony, Jeff King, assistant director of Ohio State University Extension in charge of 4-H Youth Development Programs, said the park dedication was "a celebration of leadership, citizenship and important life skills" that are taught through 4-H. "It's clear that 4-H has continued to makea difference in the lives of 4-H'ers and their families not only in Clark County, but throughout Ohio and around the world."
The $354,000 project was designed by MSI Landscape Design of Columbus, Ohio and was funded by donations and in-kind work from the Clark County Commissioners, Carleton & Ruth Davidson Trust, Jane P. Hollenbeck and The Turner Foundation. The statues' sculptor is Mike Major, who in 1971 was Ohio's first Artist-in-Residence.