It’s easy to spot a four-leaf clover at Delaware State Fair

Doug Crouse, state program leader for 4-H, holds the heaviest tomato — one of 10,000 entries at the state fair. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

HARRINGTON — For most anyone who has recited the 4-H pledge, it pretty much sticks with you for life.

Doug Crouse, the state’s 4-H program leader, reviewed the words and the hand movements with this editor Friday.

“Head to clearer thinking, heart to greater loyalty, hands to larger service — and they added health to better living later on,” he said.

A few years ago, Delaware-born actress Aubrey Plaza recited that pledge to Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show” one night and shared the role 4-H played in her life.

The organization instills a sense of community service in its club members.

Mr. Crouse, who grew up with 4-H in his life and later made it a career choice, talked Friday about how it helped him. His 4-H leaders would say, “Let’s do things that make a difference in our communities.”

When he was 15 years old, his Harrington 4-H club celebrated the bicentennial by painting 78 fire hydrants in the city in patriotic colors. He and other members also planted red, white and blue petunias in the shape of a flag in a flower bed at Killens Pond State Park. “We had to haul water in tubs there every night to water them,” he said.

Mr. Crouse, in addition to 4-H, has numerous civic involvements.

He dove back into 4-H in a big way in 1993 when his daughter was 9 years old. He and wife, Karen, took over the Sunshine Club and it grew from eight members to 140 members in two years.

“People used to think we were nuts,” he said. “But that was my stress relief from the bank. I had great experiences in 4-H and I wanted to give back.”

Mr. Crouse spent 20 years in banking prior to joining the state’s professional 4-H staff, first as a county extension agent and educator.

While working at the JC Penney Bank in Harrington years ago, he was at a Harrington Business Association meeting when there was word the city’s Heritage Day festival was about to end. He soon chaired a committee to keep it going. When there’s a need, you jump in.

“That’s what 4-H taught me,” he said.

***

This week, the ice arena at the Delaware State Fair is one of the coolest spots.

The ice is gone, but the air conditioner is on. And there are ribbons galore and scores of smiling kids.

About 10,000 entries in a wide variety of classes from crafts to photos to vegetables and more cover the floor of the arena.

(Before the ice arena was built, 4-H and FFA crammed into the Dover Building and entries peaked at about 5,000.)

On Monday, four days before the fair started, entries started coming in and judges went about awarding ribbons.

There were 140 club members, parents and judges involved.

“I put more than 60,000 steps on these feet – that’s what my Fitbit told me,” said Mr. Crouse. “I can tell you that we couldn’t have done it without our volunteers.”

Presentation and feedback are essential, he said.

When you walk through the rows and rows of entries, you’ll notice the ribbon hanging properly on the right side, straight, with the name tag under. For the red and yellow ribbon winners, there will almost always be a note from the judges.

“Kids love blue ribbons,” he said. “You don’t have to say a word. They have achieved what they wanted.

“I always tell our judges that when you award a red or yellow ribbon, we expect you to say why because that’s how they learn.”

***

Today, there are nearly 36,000 young people, ages 5 to 19, involved in 4-H. Additionally, 800 people volunteer time with 100 clubs that meet throughout the year.

There are more than 100 project areas available. And the national 4-H mission mandates science and technology, healthy living and civic engagement.

Mr. Crouse likes what 4-H can offer today’s youth.

“I always like to find those experiences for kids to learn, to increase their life skills, increase their people skills and just become productive citizens in their community,” he said.

It is not hard to find a four-leaf clover around the fair, whether it is on a T-shirt, a ribbon or a float in the nightly parade.

“The clover resonates with people,” Mr. Crouse said. “They know what it means. They understand it is youth, it is learning.

Lillie Bradley, of the Bridgeville Mustangs 4-H Club, greets visitors with the organization’s brochure at the Delaware State Fair.

“Some people still feel 4-H is truly agricultural, but that’s not the case.”

Only 3 percent of members come from farms.

And, around the fair, you never know who is familiar with the pledge.

On Thursday, country singer Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland welcomed the 4-Hers backstage at the fair.

Mr. Crouse said he accompanied seven state council officers to meet her and stay for the show.

“It was a great experience,” he said.

Ms. Nettles is a 4-H alumna, too.

Reach Executive Editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

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