Each month we highlight an Ohio 4-H alumnus. Our alumni have amazing stories to share, from their personal experiences in 4-H to how they have given back to the program. Janet Nelson Bates and Barbara Houser Layfield from Trumbull County are lifelong friends who recently reminisced about how 4-H continues through four generations of family, friends, and service.
Janet grew up on a 60-acre farm in Southington, and Barb grew up in Leavittsburg, a town 9 miles distant. If it weren’t for Janet’s aunt, who taught grade school in Leavittsburg, they would not have met until they were old enough to join 4-H.
Barb’s mother won the milking contest through 4-H at the Ashtabula County Fair, and Janet’s father raised and showed pigs as a youth. These activities led to them becoming 4-H advisors. Janet’s father was a 4-H dairy club advisor with the Phalanx Dairy Club, and her mother was a 4-H cooking advisor with the Southington Jolly Cookers. Barb’s mother was a 4-H sewing advisor for the Snow White 4-H Club.
“We had no cell phones, computers, tablets, etc. Our summers were spent in 4-H activities—fairs, camp, and style shows. We looked forward to seeing all our friends each year in 4-H,” remarked Janet.
At age 10, Janet started with her first calf, and Barb began sewing. Janet won a cooking demonstration at the Trumbull County Fair when she was 12 and received a candy thermometer—which she still uses! The two were in many 4-H clubs together, and just like countywide clubs today, the Junior Leadership Club helped them meet 4-H’ers from all over the county.
The Trumbull County Fair was always a busy time for Janet and Barb with dairy projects, and Janet with her horse. Barb said, “We enjoyed 11 years of good fun, fellowship, and learning, so it was a sad day when we turned 21 and had to drop out of 4-H (that was the age limit in 1960). 4-H taught us responsibility, cooperation, leadership, and sewing.”
Their friendship didn’t end after high school. They began their college careers together at Bowling Green State University, and also then their teaching careers. They became 4-H advisors by enlisting several of their students to join by taking sewing projects. A highlight of those early years was the privilege of meeting 4-H founder A.B. Graham.
In the early 1970s and spanning the next nine years, Barb’s three children and Janet’s four children became 4-H members in clubs that focused on sewing, dairy, and horses. Their 4-H projects led their children to a variety of honors: four became camp counselors, one was a State Fashion Revue board member, four received Outstanding of the Day awards for sewing at the Ohio State Fair, and two served as Ohio Guernsey queens.
Their grandchildren were also active in 4-H, and now each one has a great-grandchild waiting to be old enough to begin her 4-H career!
Now there are three granddaughters of Barb and Janet that continued after their nine years in 4-H in sewing, dairy, and saddle clubs: Ashlee and Amber are showing Guernseys on the state and national Levels; Barb’s granddaughter, Grace, as a doctor, is still helping guide our young people; and Janet’s granddaughter, Ashlee, earned her master’s degree at Ohio State and is now the 4-H educator for Trumbull County.
And now there’s a fifth generation—Ashlee’s daughter, Avery Grace. Will she be in 4-H and show chickens and turkeys (like her dad), or cows and horses (like her mom)? Only time will tell!
Janet and Barb shared their advice for today’s 4-H members. “It will be as much fun and learning as you allow it to be,” Janet said. Barb added, “Participate in everything 4-H has to offer.”
Fun facts: What are Janet’s and Barb’s favorite memories from their time in 4-H?
Barb: being a camp counselor, attending Junior Leadership meetings, and going to 4-H Club Congress.
Janet: Loading cows on the train for the state fair, and attending 4-H Club Congress.