For those who have worked with Nettie Ruth Brown in St. Johns County, the words, “I’ve been thinking” still make them cringe. Odds are, they know that Nettie Ruth Brown has come up with a project that is going to keep them busy, very busy, at learning by doing.
“Her energies are infectious,” said Barry Morton, who nominated Nettie Ruth Brown for the Florida 4-H Hall of Fame. “Nettie Ruth has been the embodiment of 4-H in St. Johns County. Through public speaking programs, demonstration contests, and judging contests, she inspired 4-H youth and leaders to develop confidence, to communicate effectively and to make decisions under pressure.”
Known for her creative ideas and boundless energy, Brown started her 33-year professional career with 4-H as a 4-H home demonstration agent in McMinn County, Tennessee. After eight years of service in Tennessee she moved to St. Augustine, Florida in 1960 to be the home economics Agent for St. Johns County.
Brown worked as the home economic agent for sixteen years, until she became the interim county extension director for two years. In 1975, she served as the national president of the National Association of Extension Home Economists. Brown’s heart rested in youth development work, and she became the 4-H coordinator for the County in 1978. She served in this capacity until her retirement in 1985.
“Nettie Ruth embodies 4-H in St. Johns County,” said Barry Morton, St. Johns County Cooperative Extension Service. “With her energy, original thinking, dedication to youth and insistence upon quality performance, she has developed new programs and elevated the 4-H program to prominence and respect within the county.”
“I enjoyed it. I thought it was fun,” said Brown of her time with 4-H. “It was a lot of work but it was fun and I really enjoyed the involvement I had with families and communities. These projects meant a lot to all of us.”
Brown says she has gained a lot of satisfaction from retiring in Florida and being able to see many of her former 4-H members and the leadership roles they are now assuming on both the local and national level.
“It’s so gratifying to be able to see these young people I’ve worked with and see how far they have come,” said Brown. “Some of these kids came in as a very shy person and it’s so fun watching them develop and their personalities emerge and attitudes improve”
She says that seeing 4-H members succeed today still gives her a great deal of satisfaction. “It’s nice to see them today involved on club, community, district and national levels and how they have developed their leadership roles and assumed responsibility,” she said.
Under her direction, Brown’s 4-H members won many state and national awards in public speaking and horticulture demonstrations. She was the author of several publications for 4-H members on public speaking, demonstrations, clothing for teenagers, and table setting contests. She also developed projects and workbooks for the Florida Cowbells Association – a women’s divison of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association.
When asked if she thinks 4-H is still helpful for youth today, Brown emphatically replied, “Oh yes! Today’s young people need what 4-H has to offer just as much as any before them.”
Why is 4-H so important to today’s youth? Brown says, “It is one area where they can work together in small groups and help each other. This program changes to meet the needs of the time, but it still teaches the most important things. It doesn’t matter what the project is, it’s the leadership, public speaking and citizenship skills they develop.”
Despite retiring from extension work more than 20 years ago, Brown still enjoys frequent contact with 4-H leaders, volunteers and club members. She especially enjoys interacting with youth people. “I think anytime an adult works with young people it helps keep them young,” said Brown. “It keeps you plugged in to what is happening in today’s society. That keeps you from getting too old too fast!”
In addition to her work with 4-H, Brown is involved in several civic organizations including the Blood Bank Center of St. Johns County, the St. Augustine Sister Cities Association, the Executive Council for the Friends of St. Johns County Library, and the Garden Club.