By DOUG GRAVES
HAMILTON, Ohio — There are roughly six million children involved in 4-H in the United States, and 540,000 volunteers at their side. In southwestern Ohio are two of those volunteers, who have given a lifetime to 4-H and show no signs of slowing down.
Without fanfare, Wayne Arnold, 70, of Fayette County and Ted Kerby, 69, of Butler County have each led youths through countless projects for 50 and 53 years, respectively.
“Seems like I’ve been associated with 4-H all my life; once you get involved you just keep going,” Arnold said. “My son and two grandsons went through 4-H as well. It’s a wonderful program for youth. In all my years with 4-H I’ve never had fewer than 20 members in any of my clubs.”
When he was coming up the ranks of 4-H, members could participate until they were 21. Loving 4-H as much as he did back then, he started the Fayette County Rabbit Club in 1963 – on his 21st birthday. There were 30 members.
Ten years later the name changed to Fur and Feathers 4-H Club. On his 600-acre farm he tended to corn and soybeans, but he also had hundreds of animals that included rabbits, chickens, sheep, alpacas and cattle.
“For a long time my club dealt with rabbits, but a few years ago we added steers, then dairy cows, then market lambs,” he said. “We had just about every animal imaginable.”
Ten years later yet another name change occurred, this time to the present-day Funny Farmers 4-H Club, to reflect that menagerie. Projects include hogs, sheep, goats, alpacas, chickens, cooking and sewing. The club now has 25 members.
Today there are 80 4-H clubs in Fayette County. To Arnold, the kids have remained the same over the years, but society’s pressures have entered the picture, he said.
“Seems like back then it was more fun and everyone enjoyed it a lot,” he said. “Today, it seems like it’s all about winning and everyone goes out and buys high-priced livestock to compete with. Heck, we had to raise and show our own livestock.”
It’s not like Arnold needs to occupy his time. He continues to referee high school and college basketball, a hobby he’s stayed with the past 37 years. He has served on the Fayette County Fair Board for 15 years as well as his local park board and Agronomy Club, is vice president of the Fayette County Republican’s Committee, and is on Miami Trace High School Band Boosters and the Miami Trace FFA Boosters.
The love of 4-H is similar for Ted Kerby of Hamilton, who has been at the helm of a horse 4-H program for 53 years. He has led the Ross Rocking R 4-H Club since he was just 14. (R is in the name since it began serving Ross Township, Riley Township and Rossville, near Hamilton). He estimates more than 1,000 children have crossed his path thanks to 4-H.
“I’ve been doing this a long, long time,” Kerby said wiping his brow from a humid summer sun. “You have to enjoy doing this sort of thing because you’re not getting paid to do it.
“The livestock advisor we had at the time just quit and got a replacement. That new advisor said he’d take it over if I would do all the paperwork, but I quickly became an advisor at that young age. And that upset a lot of people because they felt I was too young.”
That club transitioned from hogs to horses immediately. Kerby knows much about equestrian matters.
“I always said that I’d quit when I see the grandkids of my first students or when I quit having fun, whichever came first,” Kerby said. “I still have fun with the kids, though the parents can sometimes be difficult.”
Kerby’s sons, Matt and Clint, were active in 4-H and that kept him at the helm of the club over the years. His clubs have served Hamilton and surrounding townships.
“I asked kids why they joined 4-H; the most told me they wanted to meet kids from different areas,” he said. “I think that’s good and shows that kids in 4-H aren’t into all those cliques you see nowadays.”
Kerby boasts that he’s had as many as 52 children in his clubs at any one time. “My theory is I’ll teach the kids what I know and can teach them,” he said. “I don’t push the kids to learn; if they want to learn they’re going to pick up on it. First and foremost we need to have fun, second we need to be safe. You need to worry about the kids, then worry about their projects.”
While horses are his preferred animal, he does include two hogs and one rabbit in his club. “I’ll gladly take in other animals, but they’ll all fall under the Ross Rocking R banner,” he said.
Kerby has also led activities such as archery, creative writing and shooting sports. He is just as active outside 4-H, having been to Washington, D.C., six times lobbying on the behalf of extension.
He served as president of the Southwest Regional Water District for 21 years, and was president of the Riley Township Historical Society, Riley Township Zoning Appeals Board and Ohio Rural Water State Board.
Kerby’s favorite position was serving as a Miami University police dispatcher for 29 years.
“I live life like I’m dying today,” he said. “Boredom is not in my vocabulary. I live my life by treating people the way I would want to be treated.”
With all he has accomplished he still talks mostly about his 130-acre farm, where he had his hands full tending to 50 ewes and 16 sows. Horses were always on his farm, and the most precious to him were the Percherons.
“I’ve seen all types of kids, and I don’t think kids have changed a whole lot over the years,” he said. “Kids nowadays have more things to do and they’re pushed a little bit harder. Only thing that’s changed are the faces. Kids who want 4-H in their lives will find it and a lot of that depends on their parents’ background.”
For Ross Rocking R member Hailey Lightfield, having Kerby as an advisor was a given, since her father and three uncles were under his guidance 30 years earlier.
“Kerby is old-fashioned and keeps things family-like,” Lightfield said. “He’s always caring and always makes things fun. It’s advisors like Kerby who keeps kids coming back year after year.”