4-H a way of life

Sruthi Yejju

Keith Funk has made 4-H his way of life.

Funk, 61, a resident of Eureka, has been working with 4-H since 1957, starting when he was 8 years old. All his children, including his two stepdaughters, have been a part of 4-H too.

“We are a typical family, but 4-H has been an integral part of our life. It has been very important in developing our children and that is very important to us,” Funk said.

Funk has three children from his first marriage, sons Kourtney and Kevin and 39-year- old daughter Kelli, who is now a mother of three daughters herself.

He has two step-daughters, Katie McLaughlin, 19, a freshman at Eureka College, and Natalie McLaughlin, 21, a junior at a college in Kewanee, Ill., who will be graduating in Equine Sciences.  

He and his wife, Lavonne’s, youngest daughter McKenzie, 12, a seventh grader, still has seven years to go at 4-H.

Funk’s granddaughter will be starting 4-H next fall. At the Funks, 4-H is truly a family affair.

“I was a 4-H member at McLean County for 10 years. Then I moved, got married and put my children in 4-H at the Woodford County,” Funk said.

“We attend our 4-H club meetings every month. Last year we were the club of the year.”

Funk is currently a volunteer with 4-H and is the dairy and livestock superintendent.

“I was an advisor for youth earlier. Then I started volunteer work with dairy departments and beef farmers. I used to help organize the dairy show, put on workshops to help dairy, make sure the 4-H livestock got to the ring and things like that. Now I am the dairy superintendent,” he said.

“I grew up on a farm, so it makes sense. I am fortunate to be involved in leadership in that area.”

Funk said, “My youngest daughter joined three years ago. She will be turning 13 this July and can be in 4-H till she turns 19. I will continue with 4-H as long as my daughter is in it. We will then let other people take our place.”

Funk said he and his daughter volunteer the day before the fair, to clean and set up.

“My daughter has taken four or five projects. She is not only working with dairy and livestock, but also participates in arts and crafts and cooking. She loves horses. She takes care of horses too.”

Funk said he believes 4-H helps a child to develop mentally and physically, in addition to helping decide a possible career choice.

“There are 4-H youth programs and adult programs, all of which are important and make a difference.”

Funk, however, has a few disappointments too.

“4-H is not as dominant as it used to be years ago. But still there are parents and people who see the need to send their children. They learn responsibility and acquire knowledge.

“I was a teacher at a high school near Eureka. I then got involved as a youth advisor at 4-H. I like to work with youth. The kids who I met back then have kids now who are in 4-H. It is good to see how important 4-H is to them even now.”

With reference to the Woodford extension office and its uncertain future, Funk said 4-H cooperative extension service is a very vital part of the community and an intrinsic part of people.

“But with change of times, changes are coming up for the extension,” he said. “Lots of people don’t realize the extension’s importance. It used to be just the basic things earlier. Today the 4-H is so much more branched out. Kids learn how to do so many things. The extension office plays a key role in all this.”

Funk moved on to explain his role at 4-H. He attends and participates in state fairs and other county fairs throughout the state.

“I have been on the road quite a lot. I organize different farms wherever we go and judge cattle. We go to state and county contests.”

According to Funk, things have gotten smaller when it comes to major livestock, beef and dairy.

“These require investing time and money and major expenses. That is the reason the numbers in these areas are dwindling.

Chickens, where no major investment is required, is growing rapidly.

“Horses are still going strong, but it is a different thing because it is more for pleasure.”

Funk said he thinks multi-county contests will make more sense and should probably start from next year.

“So, yeah, there have been changes,” he said.

The 2010 Woodford County 4-H Fair will be held July 20-22 with project check-in July 19.

For more information about the 4-H, how to enroll and the programs, visit the website web.extension.illinois.edu/woodford/4hyouth.html.