I went into Trego School to see a poster where the Trego Trailblazers 4-H club was welcoming us to County Congress. It brought back memories. I was there when a group of kids started the club and came up with the name “Trailblazers”. Was it Kenny Peters who coined the name? Freddie Osler? The only thing I know for sure is that I was there 60 years ago, when the Trailblazers came to life, and that I wasn’t the one who came up with the alliterative name. At the end of that meeting, I was no longer a Fortine Pioneer . . . I was a Trego Trailblazer. It was kind of a rush to see that something done so casually by a bunch of kids 60 years ago still has a bunch of kids.
I was going to write about this particular County Congress – but I have a story of County Congress, State 4-H Congress, the County Fair, a cattle workshop, and an outstanding, wonderful 4-H kid. It’s a story that I can tell because I’m typing it, not trying to talk as memories bring tears.
I was the County Extension Agent, and County Congress was due to start in a couple hours. Sam must have been pushing 5, and was visiting with her big kid friend, Kit Kinsella . . . and Sam explained that we had to give Kit a ride home to get the gear for her demonstration. I liked Kit. Sam liked Kit – and she had forgotten her gear, and the parental idea was that she would learn to be more responsible in the future by losing the opportunity. Sam had a different idea – we needed to take the Yugo, drive Kit out to McGinnis Meadows, bring back her stash and get her the chance to compete.
Sam, not yet 5, had what proved to be the right idea – one of the best things I did as an Extension agent. Kit rushed in for the competition, won it, and qualified for State 4-H Congress. A couple months later, we were carpooling with Flathead County to State Congress . . . it was a good partnership. Cheryl Weatherell would be in the girls dorm with my Lincoln County girls, and I inherited the Flathead boys to check in on in Langford Hall. It worked.
Kit lived 40 miles out of town, off-grid. The week in a college dorm was her week – unlimited showers, indoor plumbing, and a whole crew of girls fascinated by Kit’s off-grid, home-schooled life. The third day of State Congress, Cheryl was telling how much the Flathead girls learned and enjoyed Kit. That evening one of the boys I was supervising crawled out through a window, so I had a bit of a discipline problem . . . in the girls’ dorm, Kit explained to Cheryl that her upper arm hurt, and that there was a lump on the bone.
In those days, when the internet was young, and phone lines followed powerlines, there wasn’t much to do. I shared the scars on my left shoulder, where it had taken a surgery at 7, then a second at 12, to get rid of the tumor. It was calming – Kit was sure that she could handle it, even if her scars turned out ugly like mine. That Friday, I dropped Kit off with her mother, and drove home. A couple weeks later, we learned that Kit’s tumor was the iron crab – mine had been benign. I got the call as John Patterson and I were teaching a livestock class – John wound up teaching my part as well as his own – my eyes teared up too much at the words “stage 4”.
Kit made it to the county fair – she greeted me with a smile, and insisted that I roll up my sleeve – that if I would just sit on the hay bail she could show me that her surgeons left as big a scar as mine. Several times I’ve heard of the little teen-ager enjoying sitting with me comparing scars. I still tear up when the tale is repeated. Long story made short, the physicians did the best they could, but as an early Spring came in, Kit went out.
I wasn’t a 4-H agent – 4-H was just one of my duties. On one hand, I could look at how great that single trip to MSU for State Congress was for Kit. On the other hand, I wasn’t tough enough to lose one of my 4-H kids, take it in stride, and return to 4-H activities unimpaired. All of a sudden, all my 4-H kids looked vulnerable.
From that experience, moving admin, supervising 38 agents and 20 counties in South Dakota was a bit easier – the county staff has the fun of working with young learners, and administrators are removed from the realities that there are times when young people die, and that neither doctors nor extension agents can change that.
And as I think back, Sam was right. Nothing I ever did as an Extension Agent was as good an act as driving 80 miles so that Kit could qualify for a week at MSU in a college dorm. I couldn’t stay through this year’s County Congress – good, but pained memories returned.