Joy and Satisfaction - The Result of 65 Years of Service to 4-H
Story by Baker Geist, Weld County Communications Specialist, photos from Weld County and Bill Erickson
You don’t have to wonder long about what has motivated Eaton resident Bill Erickson to be the leader of the Galeton 4-H Club since 1952. The answer is expressed in the smile that stretches across his face when asked what he’s enjoyed most about the experience.
“Seeing the kids and what they can develop into, it’s always fascinated me working with the kids,” Erickson said. “I’m still enthused about 4-H and what it can do for kids in helping them develop.”
While time has erased some of the stories he could tell about the many children and young adults he’s mentored and inspired along the way, certain ones still stick out to him as examples of great growth opportunities available to 4-H participants. One example given was about a 4-Her who was so nervous about showing her animals for the first time, she got sick and missed the competition. But Erickson said the little girl persevered and within the last few years was named the Weld County Fair Queen.
“That’s just one story I told you, but there’s hundreds,” Erickson said.
Those hundreds of stories begin with his own involvement in the Weld County Fair and 4-H as a child. Erickson’s earliest memory of the fair is in 1942, when he caught a colorful pig in the pig catch-it contest. From there, he progressed; showing pigs and cattle at the fair. Never concerned with winning any competitions, he said his family was interested more in developing the skills required to care for an animal.
“Working with the animals and getting to know them is what we were interested in and we went into the fair and showed but we knew we weren’t going to be competitors,” Erickson explained.
Participating in the fair was only one aspect of Erickson’s 4-H experience as a youth. He also participated in the junior leader project, a project that helps build leadership skills through community activities. Maintaining a continued interest with the Galeton club after his membership concluded in 1948, Erickson eventually stepped in as the leader.
Erickson’s duties as a club leader were numerous and included in part, serving as the organizational leader of the Galeton 4-H club. His duties were administrative in nature but they were pivotal to ensuring the success of the club each year.
“Organizational leaders are the primary administrator of the functions of that 4-H club, and they are the prime contact between the club and our extension office,” said Keith Maxey, County Director of the CSU Extension Office. “They are responsible for the enrollments, securing the time and place for club meetings and ensuring all 4-H policies are followed.”
Erickson also served as project leader for numerous 4-H projects related to dairy, tractors and farm safety. While he’s seen many projects inspire kids over the years, he said debuting model rocketry at the fair in the ’60s was particularly special.
“The model rocketry project was a big project and we started that in Galeton,” Erickson explained. “We had a man come in from California and he said, ‘I think we should have a model rocketry project.’ I said, ‘that’s great and it’s something new just go ahead and do it!’”
The popularity of model rocketry surprised Erickson, who said seeing model rocketry remain as a 4-H project gives him a tremendous amount of pride.
“We brought in four or five kids and had a rocket shoot,” Erickson said. “Everyone was excited about it and it just really snowballed and grew into a popular project. It definitely is (rewarding.)”
There have been many rewarding moments for Erickson across more than six decades of volunteering. While it’s impossible to pinpoint only one special moment, he said seeing kids learn and grow through 4-H gives him the most joy.
One of those joyous moments came when he attended a state dairy judging contest at CSU with his children, Jon and Gege. Although both were involved in dairy judging during their time in 4-H, neither were experienced enough to participate. Still, they helped at the contest by serving as handlers of the animals and were tasked with leading them around the ring. Erickson said one cow was skittish and particularly difficult to handle. However, when it was Gege’s turn to lead it, the cow’s demeanor changed. The way she handled the animal showed the value of learning and still gives Erickson tremendous satisfaction.
“There was a half-grown Holstein heifer that had just given people fits,” Erickson remembered. “Gege was just a little girl and she went up and I could tell she was talking to the calf. I don’t know what she said but the calf started to jerk a little, and she just jerked that show halter a couple times and the calf must’ve realized ’this girl knows what she’s doing.’ The calf never gave anyone any problems for the rest of the day. I told Gege I was so proud of her that things worked out that way.”
While 65 years of volunteer service is impressive by itself, the accomplishment becomes greater when considering the other commitments that Erickson has had over the years. Following service in the Air Force, he took over his family’s dairy in 1954, following the passing of his father. The dairy consisted of 400 cattle and 560 acres but it still didn’t hinder Erickson’s enthusiasm to 4-H. Maxey, who has known Erickson and for more than 55 years and been a family friend, believes Erickson’s unwavering commitment to helping youth makes his volunteer service even more remarkable and speaks to his overall legacy.
“A dairy farm in particular, demands that you’re there around the clock caring and milking animals,” Maxey said. Bill could’ve kept on the farm and said, ‘I don’t have time to volunteer’ but he knew that for the community in which he lived to be better, he had to invest his time.”
Erickson is still listed as a 4-H leader although others have stepped in and taken over a majority of the duties. Unsure of how many more years he’ll remain with the club, his impact on Weld County youth is vast. Erickson sees the significance of his service anytime he’s re-introduced to former 4-H members who have passed the skills they learned from Erickson on to their children and grandchildren. Seeing the skills he’s spent his life instilling passed down to other generations solidifies that his volunteer service will continue to live on in future generations.
“It’s gratifying,” Erickson said.
PRIDE IN 4-H EXTENDS TO WELD COUNTY FAIR
As 4-H and the fair go together, Erickson has also volunteered his time at the Weld County Fair. Besides helping kids prepare their projects for the event, he also served on the fair committee and worked to form a leader’s food booth, which focused on providing cost-efficient food to the kids participating in events.
When not volunteering with the fair, he looks forward to attending and making the most of every opportunity.
“I’ve gone to the fair every year I could since we moved up here in 1942,” Erickson said. “I look forward to everything and I’ve enjoyed them all.”
Lasting 100 years speaks to the fair’s value in Weld County. Erickson is impressed with its longevity and credits 4-H for the role it has played in keeping the fair relevant. He said 4-H projects are continuing to evolve and that by to catering to interests outside of agriculture, more kids can bring projects to the fair.
“It doesn’t make any difference where you live anymore you can belong to 4-H and have a project,” Erickson said, highlighting 4-H robotics projects as examples. “4-H is keeping up with the times.”
Erickson said he plans to attend this year’s fair and while his background is in livestock, he looks forward to seeing each project. From woodworking to baking, the talent on display inspires him as much today as it did when he first attended the fair more than 70 years ago.
“Seeing what the kids can do still amazes me and fills my heart,” Erickson said.