Nancy Schmidt inducted into Iowa 4-H Hall of Fame

By Gretchen Teske, The JOURNAL


Nancy Schmidt loved 4-H so much she decided to make a career of it. As a young person in Washington County, Schmidt was involved in the girls club and later held multiple positions with the Iowa State Extension office which earned her the title of Washington County?s Hall of Fame recipient for 2018.

When Schmidt started in 4-H there was a separate club for boys and girls. The girls had three areas of emphasis, focusing on food and nutrition, home imporvement and clothing. ?That was a rotating cycle of those three topics in those clubs,? she said. ?It was very different then compared to now.?

4-H has since expanded, which Schmidt believes is a very positive thing. ?You have to take a look at all the possibilities that are out there and find something that is of interest to you,? she said. ?The opportunities are there (now).?

She feels that uniting the boys and girls makes 4-H more inclusive and expanding topics allows for 4-H to reach students in non rural settings as well. Expanding 4-H into bigger cities was a goal of hers as she wanted to reach as many students as possible. She is especially a fan of the self-determined class now offered because it allows for students to expand their horizons and be recognized for what they enjoy, not just what the Extension office can offer.

Her love for projects inspired her to become a family and consumer science teacher. After spending 11 years in Wisconsin Schmidt and her husband returned to Iowa to work on the family farm. In 1981, she accepted the job of youth coordinator at the Extension office. In this position, she worked with volunteers and advisory group leaders to provide new opportunities and experiences for kids. One of those was a career fair that allowed employers to come in and teach students what they looked for in an employee. She said it allowed kids to have the chance to not only learn about other careers but hear feedback from a variety of employers about what traits they look for in employees.

She also helped to bring back the baby sitters camp, which still continues today. The camp stopped years before Schmidt took the job but she was passionate about bringing it back because it was a positive experience they could have fun with and also learn from. ?It was something that kids could learn about,? she said of providing the camp. ?Something that they could do with their spare time in the summer.?

Broadening spectra and including more activities was a major goal of hers because of the lack of options she had as a youth in 4-H. Another program Schmidt proved to be instrumental in starting was the Clover Kids program which opened 4-H to students from kindergarten to third grade. ?That was something that was very new because we always thought 4-H was just fourth grade and above,? she said.

The new program allowed younger students to get involved and have the same experience as 4-H members. She said the opportunity allowed for younger kids to be a part of something and showed them responsibility as well as gave them a chance to develop communication skills and develop a sense of pride in their work. They learn from hands-on experience and how-to skills that they cannot learn in the classroom. She says by providing youth with opportunities, the love and passion is planted for it to grow with the student in years to come.

?The younger you get them started and interested in those kinds of things, the more ready to jump right into regular 4-H they will be,? she said. Program materials were ready for the new club, and the only work came with finding leader?s as students were ready to join and grateful for the opportunity. ?It?s all about helping others, which is a great thing to get them started with as well,? she said.

From there, Schmidt moved into a new position as the county director when the existing director retired. ?That meant that I worked with not only the 4-H program, but the other programs the Extension offered,? she said.

As the coordinator, she worked with a variety of programs such as home ec, horticulture and agriculture. Her job was to bring in experts to inform students, which in turn grew her knowledge of topics as well. Schmidt says bringing in specialists to speak with students was impactful because it allowed for students to take on new perspectives and develop an appreciation for the world around them. ?Anytime you can bring in a new person and meet someone outside of your area, that broadens everyone?s horizon,? she said.

After spending time as the county coordinator, she moved into her final position with the Extension office as the youth development specialist. She worked with five counties and their designated youth coordinators and volunteers to help determine the needs of their campers and staff. Finally after a 24-year career with the Office, Schmidt retired.

Schmidt and her husband spend half of the year in Iowa and half in Florida. This put the Extension in a jam when they tried to contact her about being chosen as 4-H Person of the Year in Washington County.

Before she left for vacation, her cellphone stopped working but she decided to deal with the problem when she returned home. Six weeks after the Extension initially tried to contact her, Schmidt?s daughter called to tell her the good news. ?I was very humbled and very honored,? she said. ?It?s nice to be recognized for what you?ve done.?

On Thursday, July 19, she was recognized at the County Fair Awards Ceremony. Her son and daughter came in from out of town to surprise her at the ceremony, but the ceremony was delayed by a day and they surprised her by showing up at her home instead. ?It was the highlight of my summer,? she said.

Schmidt will be inducted into the 2018 Iowa 4-H Hall of Fame during a special ceremony at the Iowa State Fair on Sunday, Aug. 19, at 3:30 p.m.