Four members of the Harmony 4-H club, the Stutika sisters, Melysa, 14, and Lauren, 12, and Schultz siblings, Ella, 12, and Erik, 15, gathered near the Milton Community House to talk about their projects and experiences with 4-H.
All will be exhibiting at the Rock County 4-H Fair, 1301 Craig Avenue, Janesville, which will be held between July 23 and 28. For a full schedule of events, visit: https://www.rockcounty4hfair.com/events.
Clubs and 4-H projects often bring familial and even cross-generational interactions and bonding. The Stutika and Schultz families exemplify that process: moms, Elaine Schultz and Denise Stutika, have served as club co-chairs for three years. Both were 4-H members. The program is open to children 5-19 years old. There are 32 members in the Harmony club, the co-chairs said, and like their own children, many choose to explore a plethora of topics, ranging from art, to archery, to animals.
Within the Harmony 4-H club, kids explore dairy animals, pigs, sheep, and one member is involved with horses, Elaine said, adding her son has brought the same cow to the fair for five years.
Within the club, art, photography, and home environment, which Elaine described as the refurbishing or building of items that can be used in home décor, are popular projects. Nine Harmony club members will be exhibiting their contributions in those categories at this year’s fair.
Melysa, a freshman at Milton High School, began her involvement with 4-H as a Clover Bud when she was in the first grade. This year, her projects include sheep, dairy, foods, drawing and photography, she said.
While 4-H activities are available year-round, Melysa said she puts more hours into projects as the fair draws near. That’s when the pressure is on to complete things, she said. Among items she will exhibit this year is a ceramic dragon she calls “Fred.”
Marcella’s Ceramics, Inc., Beloit, makes the molds; club members paint and finish them, Denise said.
Lauren, a seventh-grader at Milton Middle School, will also exhibit ceramic pieces, including a vessel selected by her mom, she said with some adolescent dismay, and two figurines: an owl and a raccoon. She will also compete in dairy, sheep, food, photography and archery.
Like her sister, she began as a Clover Bud while in kindergarten and has participated within 4-H programming for seven years. She said she became hooked after she entered the show ring for the first time with a calf.
While she enjoys experiences with animals and art, once school starts, she said, she’s more into sports. The best thing about 4-H is forming friendships, she said.
A resident of Janesville living within the Milton school district, seventh-grader, Ella, has completed three home environment projects. She talked about two: she reconditioned a wine rack into one that holds water bottles.
“My dad wanted one, so I made it,” she said. The project took about five hours. She cut, sanded and assembled the pieces, she said.
With help from her grandmother, LaDonia Kyle, Whitewater, who operates a home-based quilting business, Ella made four placemats. Her grandmother found the idea for the project on the back of a magazine, she said. While working on the project, she and her grandmother spent time “talking about sewing,” she said.
Ella’s grandparents live on a farm. “I like to hang out with the cows,” Ella said. Along with home environment, she will participate at the fair in the food, dairy and archery categories.
“I am also making a cake,” she said. She might one day like to be a chef or baker, she said.
Erik is a Milton High School sophomore. He has been participating with 4-H programming for six years. He will bring two home environment projects, two woodworking projects and two heifers to the fair. He also competes in archery.
Pointing to a chair, he described his home environment project: he found the item, in very poor condition, in a shed on his late great-grandmother’s Wautoma farm. It was being sold at auction. The leather seat was “chewed apart,” Erik said, and the finish was “corroded black.”
He stripped, sanded and refinished the chair, and he and Elaine worked together to give it a new rush weave seat. It took some 20 hours to complete, he said. His other projects include a wreath, birdhouse and bench.
“I like to learn how to do things,” he said, but admitted he most enjoys working with animals.
“I would like to be a farmer,” he said. He hopes one day to run the Whitewater farm, which has been in the family for two generations, he said.
Leading the way
A Milton native, joining 4-H when she was 9, Denise introduced her children to the program, she said.
Projects bond family members as kids ask for help making project selections and honing new skills. “Family members are always available to lend a hand,” she said.
4-H animal projects are kept on her parents’ farm near Milton on County Road KK, she said.
Denise’s father started dairy farming after he graduated from high school. Today, he keeps some beef cattle owned in partnership with other family members. They also raise heifers, defined as young females that have not yet calved. They are Holsteins, Denise said.
Describing 4-H, Denise said: “It teaches responsibility, getting things done, thinking ahead, planning. It is a year-round activity.”
Denise also serves the club as sheep project leader.
“The fair is the end goal. That’s where you have your project on display. The kids are proud. They love visitors who come to the fair to see what they’ve done,” Denise said.
“I serve as project leader for everything without a project leader,” Elaine, a Whitewater native, said.
Elaine grew up on a farm started by her father, Dean Kyle. Today the working 200-acre dairy, located on County Road N, has 85 cows.
“Erik has wanted to be a farmer with Grandpa since he was 2,” Elaine said.
Erik also spends quality time with his dad, Rodney, working with wood. Woodworking is Rodney’s hobby, Elaine said.
Describing 4-H as an opportunity to inspire growth through variety, competition, and friendship, Elaine said the program brings personal achievement to leaders, too, as they help kids develop.
Elaine added: “They learn to be responsible as we as parents supervise and guide.
“You can learn new skills and not go to the fair. You can do a project, and still get all the same benefits. There is so much more to it than the fair.”