Participating in 4-H provides lessons that last a lifetime, just ask June (Garvie) Noble.
“I think it had a powerful influence in all of our lives,” she said, noting how her time with the West River club helped shape her as a person, which included a career in teaching.
She shared that thought, on the day before the annual 4-H Day at the Eastern Nova Scotia Exhibition (ENSE), while reminiscing with a group of past members of the historic Antigonish County club.
“There are so many great memories,” Noble, one of the original club members, said.
The seeds for what is now the West River 4-H Club were planted in 1958 when the late Frank Thomson spearheaded the organization of the 4-H Calf Club.
The first club achievement day took place in a field across the river, just below the then West River School. Starting with calves, the gatherings added more and more projects each year.
“It was about learning by doing and still is,” Elaine Bowie said.
Simone (Lays) Smith remembered making halters with Thomson.
“He was an amazing man – we idolized him,” she said, describing Thomson as a “father figure,” as the group nodded in agreement.
While the memories flowed, there were also plenty of laughs, including when Wayne MacDougall recalled the rides home from club meetings, which rotated from house to house and featured hearty lunches.
“We would pile in the back of his truck,” he said of those drives with Thomson around West River.
In keeping with the vehicular theme, Smith talked about a return trip from P.E.I., which included a topsy-turvy ferry ride that left most members feeling ill.
“But, we still had a ball,” she said, adding the group sang songs and laughed on the ride home from Pictou County in a canvas covered truck, as rain and wind pelted them.
Noble and MacDougall recalled Saturday mornings competing in the popular 4-H Radio Quiz show, which the legendary Gus MacKinnon hosted on CJFX.
There were also the Christmas parties, which included gift exchanges.
“You got to know your neighbours,” Bruce Thomson, one of Frank’s sons and a former 4-H member and leader, said.
“Not to mention the lifelong friends that you make,” he added.
And, of course, with surnames such as Lays, Bowie and Thomson, time with the West River Club became a family tradition.
“We are on the fourth generation,” Thomson said, in reflecting on that aspect of the 60-year-old club.
He added it has “brought families and communities together.”
“And, it is still thriving,” Bowie said.
When it comes to ‘thriving,’ that applies to the 4-H movement across Antigonish County.
Along with West River, there are clubs in Heatherton, Havre Boucher, Landing, St. Andrews and St. Josephs, while in Guysborough County there is Goshen and the first-year group in Sherbrooke.
More than 300 members – ranging in age from nine to 21 – and 80 leaders showed projects during the aforementioned 4-H Day, including four siblings from the Brophy family.
“It teaches so much about leadership and gives them a great deal of confidence,” Jennifer Connors said, in naming just a couple of the benefits her children receive from their participation.
Duncan and Mary Beth have been with the Landing club for three years, while Ellen is in her second one. Ruby – the youngest – is a first-year clover bud.
“Showing cows,” Duncan said of his favourite part of 4-H, one shared with Mary Beth.
Ellen and Ruby talked about their love for the tug-of-war competition.
“It is a lot of fun,” Ruby said.
The many experiences in what is becoming a family tradition for them include a trip to Camp Rankin for Duncan and Mary Beth.
“There is also the opportunity to volunteer,” Connors said, as Ellen pointed out they have spent time helping out with bingo at the R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home.
Having a chance to give back to the community is just one of the myriad benefits 4-H members experience.
Thomson noted there have been “so many successful people,” who were members of the West River club, noting his time with them, not only as a 4-H member but also as a leader.
Although there have been changes, Noble noted the 4-H pledge remains the rock solid foundation for the movement – words we could all benefit from and live by.
“We would have a pretty powerful country [if that happened],” she said.