Each month, we highlight an Ohio 4-H alumnus. Our alumni have amazing stories to share, from their personal experience in 4-H to how they have given back to the program. This month, we feature Bonnie Ayars, Clark County 4-H alumna and dairy specialist with the CFAES Department of Animal Sciences.
Ayars knew about 4-H before she became a member. She grew up listening to stories about A.B. Graham, the founder of 4-H. “I heard stories about my grandfather and A.B. Graham. When you live in Clark County, you know Graham was a local hero long before he was an international legend,” she said.
She also joined her parents, both 4-H advisors, on trips to the county Extension office: “I still remember receiving a piece of candy from the secretaries, and today, I clearly see their faces. My brother was in 4-H, so I went to meetings with him, and I was reminded to be seen and not heard or I could lose this privilege!”
When she was old enough to join 4-H, Ayars did all she could in the program. Ohio 4-H “became a platform of learning and experiences that pulled me out of my comfort zone. My father and I selected dairy projects, but my mother insisted that I learn to sew. Lots of great moments and spirited competition followed,” she said.
But project work wasn’t all she did: “I went to Camp Clifton for 12 years as a camper and then a counselor. Junior Leadership meetings drew me into the fold of meeting kids from all over the county. I was selected for 4-H Club Congress, the Citizenship Short Course, Leadership Camp, and the National 4-H Dairy Conference. I earned state awards in dairy and leadership. Every event opened my eyes to the real world and taught me to set goals, rather than be a dreamer.”
Her achievements were also a result of encouragement and mentorship from others: “Rod Petteys was a district 4-H leader, Claire Young was at the state office, and Fred Bruny and Bea Cleveland are all in the pages of my memories. I tried to stay in touch with all of them, and just a few years ago, I met Fred Bruny’s granddaughter on campus and she arranged a lunch with Mr. Bruny at the state fair.”
Two other individuals also made an impact on her life: “One year I was honored to be a part of a vocal performance with the Columbus Youth Symphony at Ohio 4-H Club Congress, and that opportunity introduced me to Earl McMunn, longtime 4-H supporter and Ohio Farmer editor, and Dr. Dean Kottman, who proved to be such an influential part of my life in the 60s and 70s. After a few detours into music, I received my degree from Ohio State in home economics.”
Ohio 4-H clearly made an impact on Ayars’ life. She stated, “Ohio 4-H is the absolute and primary reason for my career and the choices I have made. I became an advisor and raised my sons in 4-H. They too did demonstrations, took dairy projects, and won state awards. And my middle son, Austin, left for Citizenship Short Course exactly 30 years from the day I left for my trip, and later, he was president of Collegiate 4-H at Ohio State.”
“Now, here I am at Ohio State these past 14 years, working with 4-H after leaving the high school classroom where I taught family and consumer science and advised FCCLA. Ohio State has been and will be my dream job, and I am still mentored by the wonderful peers around me who also rank 4-H as the best experience ever. I learned from every experience. I know the motto is ‘to make the best better,’ but honestly, taking what is just average and making it better is a mighty lofty goal for all ages and in all situations.”