Monday, October 23, 2006

How Grandma Mimi became a 4-H Leader

When my girls were little I would often coerce them into sticking with an onerous task by telling them stories about their ancestors. Lately I've been thinking about my Grandma Mimi, and how she became a 4-H leader.

Mimi was not the sort of person who you would expect to volunteer for anything, let alone 4-H. She grew up in town, by her own admission a willful, spoiled child. Those of you who knew me ten years ago may remember me muttering about my willful, spoiled grandmother. At age 97 she still dressed to the nines every day and demanded that I take her to lunch and shopping at least once a week. She was a modern woman of the flapper era. As a teenager, she would sneak out to jazz clubs. As a young woman, she bobbed her hair, attended teacher's college and expected to make her own way in the world. Recently a family friend showed me a picture of her mom and my grandma in their twenties. They were dressed as sailors in order to sneak in to a Detroit burlesque show!

But times change and we have to change with them. By the 1930's, Mimi was a mom and a teacher, teaching at Warner School in Flushing. She was appalled to realize that the girls at her school were coming to school without underwear. During the Depression, even a few pairs of underwear were a luxury that few could afford. This is where 4-H comes into the story. Mimi went to the 4-H office and learned how to teach sewing. She taught her students how to sew their own underwear, from flour sacks.

Later she teamed up with Extension again, to set up a hot lunch program in her school. My mom tells of Mimi canvassing the county, accompanied by her friend from the sailor suit episode, convincing farmers to donate food so that kids could be assured of at least one good meal a day.

This is the image I come back to when I try to tell people why it so important to save Leelanau County's 4-H program. Other organizations have work with kids. Other organizations may include kids in their agendas. 4-H is the only organization dedicated to asking and answering the question "What do these real kids need, right now?" Times change, sometimes way too quickly, but childhood is short and kids' needs are immediate.

The time until the election is short, also, and 4-H needs your help. I know most of us volunteer for 4-H to work with kids, not because we like fundraising or campaigning. But, like Mimi, we are asked to reinvent ourselves to answer new challenges. Lets all challenge ourselves a little this week and ensure the future of Extension and 4-H.

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