Gardening & Living in Grand Style
100 years of 4-H in Utah made possible by people like Marion Holyoak…
by Michael Johnson
Aug 23, 2012 | 1131 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In 1902, Albert B. Graham, superintendent of the Clark County school system in Springfield, Ohio, saw a need to teach new farming concepts outside the traditional family learning model. He started a Saturday club where families could drop off youth to learn to check soil with litmus paper, use microscopes to check milk samples and be involved in other projects. That first club grew and due to its success new clubs started in Ohio and surrounding states and those became the first 4-H clubs. In 1912, Utah embraced the 4-H concept, and this year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of 4-H in Utah.

The mission of 4-H is to “engage youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development.” The 4-H motto is “to make the best better.” Volunteer club leaders foster a “learn by doing” approach to activities. While in 4-H, youth are in a position to develop good habits, build healthy relationships and learn hobbies and skills they can use throughout their lives. While it’s true that the 4-H program started as agricultural clubs and then added home economics clubs, it has since expanded to offering thousands of programs. Here in Grand County those programs have ranged from the traditional agriculture, cooking, quilting and sewing clubs to theater, music, sports, computers, watershed science, robotics and more.

Of course, 4-H couldn’t operate without the incredible volunteers who take their time to teach our youth, and that starts with having a USU Extension staff member who can find and then work with the volunteers to ensure their well-being and success as well as that of the youth. Here in Grand County, we have been incredibly lucky to have Marion Holyoak as an Extension staff member working with 4-H these past 14 years. However, we lost Marion due to illness on Aug. 14. I’d like to tell you a few things about Marion and her work here.

A bit over 14 years ago, after having been working here as the agent for about one and a half years, I needed to hire someone to help in the office. Marion appeared to be the best candidate at that time, and she proved it for the next 14-plus years. When working for the Extension service it’s critical that you learn about the needs of the community and develop programs that can help. Marion knew a lot about this community. She started her career in Grand County as a school teacher, transitioned to being a fabric/sewing shop owner and then came to work with Extension and 4-H. She knew she liked helping youth and being involved with an organization that worked to help people in a variety of ways.

From the beginning, Marion developed strong summer 4-H club programs, and was also always developing other fun learning activities to keep our young people active when they weren’t in school during summer, spring and holiday breaks, and early outs. Over the years, she developed activities during as many of those times as she could, and she never quit thinking about how to help the youth of the county. Through her efforts she made the Grand County Extension staff known both in Utah and outside the state to such a degree that we were invited on a number of occasions to talk about how such a small staff was able to accomplish so much.

However, we couldn’t do it without help. And over all those years, Marion found hundreds of the most awesome 4-H volunteers and helped them develop hundreds of clubs and activities representing truly tens of thousands of hours of interactions with youth, resulting in a positive impact on the lives of thousands of local young people. Through it all, she always had a smile and a laugh and words of encouragement.

However, Extension isn’t just about 4-H, and with such a small office the staff needs to be a team and help each other where possible. Although I am involved with the 4-H program, I always have a lot of other topic areas that I am either getting requests for help on or developing programs for. Luckily, Marion, with her background in home economics and her general willingness to help, was always willing to discuss the projects I was working on. Whether it was something she was very familiar with such as food safety or storage, or not so familiar with, such as horticulture or financial programs, she was always willing to share her thoughts and help me make what I did better.

Marion has a personal legacy of a great husband, five great kids and a new generation of grandkids, as well as friends from all over. She has a professional legacy as a school teacher, a business owner and finally, as the awesome developer of a great quality 4-H program.

When I came to Moab 15 years ago I knew I was coming to an amazing place, I didn’t know I would have the honor of working for so many years with such an incredible person. I ask everyone in our community to help me celebrate Marion’s extraordinary efforts all these years during this 100th anniversary of 4-H in Utah.

Thought for the day: “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.” —Jimmy Johnson.

For more information about these topics call the Utah State University Extension Grand County office at 259-7558 or email Mike Johnson at

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