The Missouri 4-H Foundation could not have selected anyone more worthy than Ann (posthumous) and Bill Bohnert to induct into the Missouri 4-H Hall of Fame on Aug. 19 with 44 other inductees, recognizing these volunteers and leaders for “creating exceptional legacies of service of dedication.”
The program begins at 3 p.m. in the Fred E. Davis Multipurpose Center on the State Fair Community College campus in Sedalia.
Calling Ann, whom he married on Oct. 17, 1980, as his “right-hand person,” Bill says he and his wife of 36 years had much in common. “We both came from families of seven, grew up on a farm and both of us had been in 4-H,” he recalls, noting Ann was a nurse by profession. When he retired in 2010, he was doing informational, educational and conservation work with the Soil and Water Conservation District in Blue Springs.
After working a number of years in Nebraska and Iowa, the Bohnerts returned to Bill's Eastern Jackson County roots in 1987 and purchased acreage on Twyman Road adjacent to his parents' farm, just north of Fort Osage High School. There, Ann and Bill raised their four daughters, all of whom graduated from St. Mary's High School in Independence and were active 4-H'ers, as were both of their parents.
Reminiscing about life on the farm, Bill recalls 4-H played an intricate role in molding him into the person he is today.
“My mother had been active in 4-H many, many years ago in Kansas, but it wasn't until she moved to Missouri in 1945 that she became a 4-H volunteer and leader, he says, noting Ann's parents also were 4-H volunteers and leaders. “So (Ann) was familiar with the program and was encouraged and helped by her mom and dad.”
So, what attracted young Bill to the nation's largest youth development organization was his interest in farming and agriculture.
“It just fit my interest to a tee,” he says, “and I think the same was true of Ann growing up on a larger farm with her six siblings. She was interested in home ec activities 4-H offered and I was interested in livestock and tractor maintenance and farming operations.”
With two academic degrees from Mizzou, the two-year Army veteran credits a 4-H project with helping him earn a master's degree in “soils.” Encouraged and assisted by his parents, Bill participated in a 4-H soil fertility project in which scientific principles were used to grow crops and obtain good quality and high-yielding results. Part of the project included an illustration on how to take a soil sample, he says, explaining: “That project kind of blossomed into my major at Missouri.”
As leaders and volunteers, Bill says he and Ann always strived to give back to the youth program everything they received from 4-H, whose underlying principle is education.
“So using the guide and literature from the University of Missouri Extension 4-H program, we were able to teach various projects not only to our children, but to other children in various 4-H clubs, he says. “There were all kinds of projects that bolstered all kinds of life skills. And that is kinda what 4-H is. Their slogan is 'Learn by Doing;' it's a very hands-on experience.”
Since our nation has moved from a rural setting to an urban community, what has kept 4-H afloat in the 21st century is “the ability to change with the times,” Bill believes. “4-H projects used to be more agriculturally based. For girls, it might be cooking, sewing. For boys, it would be livestock. And boys and girls could do either. But now there are projects available for 4-H members and some (like robotics and computer science) are really quite up to date.”
Also keeping 4-H alive in Jackson County is the urban thrust, he says, explaining 4-H leaders and Extension staff have intensified their urban efforts and now have interesting urban projects. “So 4-H is not only rural, it's urban.”
What will be Ann and Bill's legacy ?
Says Bill: “I think it would probably be centered around our daughters, who went from Clover Kids through age 18 in the 4-H program. I think they have done very well with what they have learned in 4-H. They have gone on to get college degrees. … I would like to think we have helped others along the way as well, especially Ann. She remained the leader of the Peacedale 4-H Club in Eastern Jackson County most of the club's existence. ...”
“I am happy to see that Ann will be recognized and remembered in yet another way. ... Ann has received some other honors, and I know she would consider this honor as her greatest award.”
-- Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.