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Adults look back to early 4-H training

By Staff | Oct 2, 2009

Erin Ford, shared naturalist for Webster County and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, finds that a lot of what was required of her in 4-H has helped in her in her career.

4-H impacts millions of youth every year, but one thing many might not realize is what impact 4-H has upon those past members that have reached adulthood.

Leadership, citizenship and life skills are aspects that are taught to 4-H’ers in addition to hands-on activities and some fun as well.

Erin Ford, shared naturalist between Webster County and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, is a past member of the Webster Dictionaries 4-H Club, a club that Ford said is no longer in existence.

Ford said she was mainly involved in photography and some sewing projects, even assisting her dad in rebuilding part of a lawn mower engine and taking that to the fair.

After graduating from Fort Dodge Senior High and Iowa Central Community College, Ford eventually earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Dubuque.

Ford, who has been a naturalist for five years, is responsible for many duties at the nature center located at Kennedy Park in Fort Dodge. These include campground and park programs during the spring and summer months and in school programs, field trips and other courses during the winter months.

Ford said she is also responsible for grant writing and just about anything else that requires her assistance.

It’s looking back on her 4-H career is what makes her realize the little things that weren’t fun back then have prepared her to be successful at her career and adult life in general.

“I used to not like it at the time,” Ford said, “but the paper work required for 4-H has really helped me with being more organized and it helped me learn how to set my priorities.

“Sometimes I’ll have five different projects going on here and I have to figure out how to be organized and what needs to be done and 4-H taught me how to do that.”

In addition to the record keeping and organizational skills, 4-H also helped Ford be more outgoing and social – just what it takes to conduct different environmental classes and programs in front of an audience.

Ford resides near Fort Dodge with her husband Justin.

4-H spurred double business ventures

Brad Bonner is another adult that attributes some his successes as an adult to his involvement in 4-H.

Bonner was a 10-year long 4-H member. He grew up in Vincent and moved to Fort Dodge when he was in sixth-grade. After graduating from Fort Dodge Senior High, he graduated from Iowa State University with degrees in philosophy and psychology. Following that education he received his master of science degree in administration and juris doctorate in law from the University of South Dakota.

Bonner currently resides in Denison with his wife, Shani, and their daughter, Brigid, where he practices law and owns Bonner Photographic LLC.

Highlights of his 4-H career include holding various club offices, being crowned the 1998 Webster County Fair King, junior leader of the photography project, serving on the State 4-H Council and traveled to many Washington and Chicago citizenship trips even being chosen as one of four National 4-H Conference Delegates from Iowa.

He said is main project areas included citizenship, leadership, communication, gardening and photography. His two businesses he said are a direct link to his experiences from 4-H.

“I attribute a solid foundation in public speaking to my experiences with 4-H,” said Bonner. “I have never been afraid to assume leadership roles; again, because by the time I graduated from the 4-H program it was second nature. I have found this immensely helpful in my law practice.”

Bonner practices primarily in business law, taxation, estate planning and elder law. He is a member of the Iowa Bar and the United States Tax Court Bar. He helps clients with a variety of small business issues as well as assists numerous farmers with compliance and taxation issues.

“The agricultural background in 4-H is again immensely helpful in relating with my clients,” he said.

The many clubs and committees and the fact that he is running for Denison City Council next month is something else he attributes to 4-H.

“4-H trips to Washington spurred my interest in government and its interactions with citizens,” said Bonner, who chairman of the Denison Planning and Zoning Commission, land use attorney for the Crawford County Memorial Hospital and president of the Denison Rotary Club.

Photography has been a large part of Bonner’s life since the eighth-grade when he said he commandeered his father’s camera and 4-H gave him a wonderful outlet for his work, even building a dark room while in high school and developing many of his own fair entries himself.

“4-H also taught me that to get good at something it takes practice and even better than practice it takes teaching what you know to others,” said Bonner. “If you don’t understand something completely it will come out quickly when you are trying to teach.”

Photography in 4-H was also the first time, he said, where he learned the value of niches.

“Every year there are hundreds of entries of photographs trying to get to the State Fair. I figured out though, that there were very few entries for non-photograph photography projects. So my chance of going to State Fair with a pinhole camera or a display about a photographic process were much more likely to be selected,” said Bonner. “If the vast majority of entries were color, I learned you could get further in the black and white categories.

“What the photography project taught me was that there is a market of sorts even at the county fair.”

That realization, he said, is what helped him build not only his photography business, but is law practice, as well.

“As a photographer I realized that my clients wanted to own the rights to their images, something few photographers were allowing when I started in 2002, so I made the decision to go after the copyright-released market and I have done very well,” said Bonner. “As a lawyer, my job is to look at the rules presented to my clients and find a way to make sure my clients stay within those rules and to accomplish my client’s goals within that framework.”

The final skill Bonner said that he learned from being a 4-H member was to set goals, keep records on progress of those goals and to constantly strive to improve.

“This is the same advice I give to every small business owner that comes to my office for my assistance in starting their small business,” said Bonner.

Contact Kriss Nelson by e-mail at jknelson@frontiernet.net.

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