Members young and old gather to celebrate group's half century of service
The Town and Country 4-H Club invited past and present club members and community residents to join in a celebration on June 22, to mark 50 years of dedicated service to the town of River Falls and its cemetery.
Since 1957, members have mowed grass, trimmed shrubs, weeded areas, planted flowers, maintained the fence and preserved the headstones at the cemetery. It has been a tradition to hold a club meeting on the grounds, where club families takes turns mowing throughout the summer.
Event planning began last November, when the River Falls Town Board recognized Town and Country 4-H for its 50 years of community service. Town Board members Diana Smith, LeRoy Kusilek, Siri Smith, Brad Mogen, Tom Sitz, Caroline Hamilton and Ruth Stern presented the club with a Certificate of Appreciation and a commemorative sign to be placed at the cemetery during a November Awards Night event.
A decision was made at that time to plan an anniversary celebration the following summer.
In preparation for that day, the club spent many hours making many improvements to the area. The old fence along the sides was removed. The brush pile in the back discarded. The flower bed was refurbished and five new trees were planted. The front fence was painted and a cedar bench was constructed and placed around one of the trees.
Nearly 200 invitations were sent to the event.
The club borrowed picnic tables and planted pots of flowers to be placed around the cemetery for added color.
Local businesses, Cedar Hill Nursery and Arteka, donated flowers and trees. Agstar Financial donated paper products for the picnic. Residents of the township also made financial donations.
The celebration began about 3 p.m. with the 4-H club serving as hosts. Some members assisted in parking cars and helping in carrying coolers and lawnchairs. Others stood by the guest book and helped everyone make a name tag.
Several tables held displays of the club scrapbooks. Many guests enjoyed looking for their pictures, reading newspaper clippings and recalling memories of events and activities.
A scavenger hunt was created by club officers providing an opportunity for young and old to walk through the headstones, read names, dates and inscriptions to answer the 15 questions on the hunt. Other folks made crayon rubbings of headstones, discovering the names and dates, some of the first settlers in the River Falls area.
There was also a poster with pictures from 1957, inviting people to "Name The 4-H Member." It helped to identify young people in the pictures, all of whom were the original members 50 years ago.
A crowd of over 200 people gathered for the program and potluck picnic.
An introduction by Jerome Rodewald outlined the history of the cemetery project. Rodewald was an assistant leader and a college student when the project was undertaken in 1959. He was instrumental in beginning the project 50 years ago and also in planning the reunion in 2008.
Boyd Huppert, Town and Country alum and KARE 11 TV news reporter served as master of ceremonies. He recalled his years growing up near the historic cemetery and his work as a member in the club.
He commented on his experiences in 4-H and how they influenced his life and his career.
Jake Andrle, current club member and River Falls High School student, began the program with a trumpet solo version of "The Star Spangled Banner." Guests stood and sang along.
The Pledge of Allegiance and The 4-H Pledge were led by current club officers Ashley Branigan, Ashlee Brager, Mitch Webb and Samantha Dusek.
State Sen. Shelia Harsdorf presented the club with a Citation of the Legislature, outlining the work the club did in the early years and the continued commitment to the community cemetery. Town Chair Diana Smith, told the crowd that the town of River Falls appreciates the hard work and dedication the 4-H club has shown over the 50 years. The long standing commitment to the cemetery has kept the grounds in good shape.
Current club leader Jane Webb thanked the crowd for its attendance and support. She expressed her appreciation to the former leaders and members, who passed on the legacy of community service.
All former leaders of the club were present for the event. They included founding leader, Rhoda (Hartland) Lubich, Shirley (Don) Obermueller, Janet (Andy) Huppert, Linda (Chuck) Morrow, Donna and Gene Andrle, Ruth (Tim) McNamara and Jane (Dan) Webb.
Webb shared some history of the club in a brochure distributed to the guests. According to the information: The club has grown from its original 19 members in 1957 to 119 members in 2007. Many of the members today are related to the original membership as grandchildren, and great-nieces and great-nephews.
Pierce County 4-H and Youth Agent, Frank Ginther, sent a message to the club.
"I wish to commend the club, both leadership and members, for their dedication to community service and for the foresight to celebrate this momentous feat. It serves as an excellent example to all of the 4-H that Town and Country has always been a club with head, heart, hands and health at work, for the betterment of the youth and the creation of quality citizens."
He sent his regrets in not being able to attend due to a family commitment out of town.
Former member and local resident Shari (Luka) Colby was among the guests who spoke during the open mike segment. She was a member of the club several years ago and remembers working in the cemetery as a young girl.
She expressed the pride she had then and the great lessons she learned through her years in 4-H. She lives in the neighborhood and appreciates the time and efforts that continue to keep the cemetery beautiful.
Sonny Miner recalled the days his children were members in Town and Country 4-H. He told of antics he remembered and expressed his appreciation for the community service project that has continued all these years.
His children and grandchildren have continued with the project at the cemetery.
At the end of the program, members past and present, were invited to the stage to lead the crowd in singing "America, the Beautiful."
The guests ranged in age from six months to 92 years.
Following the program, a potluck supper was shared. Many people stayed long after the program was done and the food was gone, visiting and enjoying the day.