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4-H Foundation Recognizes Theobalds with Family Spirit Award
Illinois Ag Connection - 10/22/2020

For five generations, the Jerry Theobald family has supported the 4-H program. The family was honored by the Illinois 4-H Foundation with the 2020 Family Spirit Award. Traditionally presented during the Illinois State Fair, this year's award was presented virtually.

Combined, the 25 4-H alumni of the family have 157 years of membership, with 75 years of combined club leadership and 36 years as 4-H volunteers. Their involvement spans 80 years, beginning with Everett, Jerry's grandfather.

Everett Theobald was one of the first leaders of the Buffalo Hart Boy's Ag Club. Organized in 1927, it was one of the longest active clubs in Sangamon County until it disbanded in 2011.

Everett's four sons were 4-H members. One of those sons, Ray, married Myrabel who would later become a 4-H leader. The couple supported their children, Jerry, Janis and Jim, and cousins in their 4-H work. Projects for this third generation included Southdown sheep, sewing, and cooking. The group participated as club officers, junior leaders, Federation officers, and state fair delegates.

Friends gained during Share the Fun skits, workshops, field trips, and fair remain today, sixty years later, says Joan Stillene Theobald. "When the six grandchildren of Ray and Myrabel became old enough for 4-H, it was never a question of 'do I have to;' instead it was 'how many project can I take and when can I start.'"

The fourth generation, six girls and one boy, added new projects to the list of favorites: photography, leather, ceramic, cake decorating, yeast breads, citizenship, and pastry. The activities expanded, too, including trips to Washington D.C., serving as camp counselors, and attending leadership conferences.

The fifth generation have even more opportunities, Joan says, including short term specialized clubs focusing on robotics, archery, and rocketry.

"Most all of our career choices were influenced by 4-H membership and projects," Joan says. "We are farmers, home economics teachers, dieticians, child development specialists, social workers, ag economists, and business owners. And, yes, we still enjoy cake decorating, visual arts, crafts, music, and drama."

The award recognizes Illinois families who have benefited from 4-H and continue to advocate for the Illinois 4-H program over multiple generations. In addition to length of 4-H membership, families advocate for the county and state 4-H programs through their community service and philanthropy.

"What this fifth generation will choose to do and become, we do not know," Joan says. "One thing is certain, 4-H will always be a valuable, meaningful, and cherished part of their lives."

The Illinois 4-H Foundation's mission is to build relationships to generate financial resources for Illinois 4-H, says Angie Barnard, Foundation executive director. "Funding from individual donors, our Illinois 4-H Project Partners, companies, and friends of Illinois 4-H help the foundation support statewide programming initiatives along with scholarships, assistance to national events, grant opportunities, and filling funding gaps."

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