Dr. Susanne G. Fisher began her 4-H career as a 4-H member and junior leader in Minnesota, where she did 4-H projects in home economics, horticulture, animal science and clothing construction. She raised a dairy calf, a beef steer, poultry, and did gardening.
Her first 4-H project was a Holstein dairy calf, and she joined 4-H around age nine or ten. She remembered, “My dad let me be in charge right from the beginning. That’s what mattered to me. I got to pick the calf, it was mine, and I was in charge.”
When it came time to pick out her calf for the 4-H project, Sue, her dad, and the 4-H agent looked at three calves in the pen. The 4-H agent said she should take the big calf, that it would get her the blue ribbon. She cried and got the littlest calf instead. She got a white ribbon for the project, and the calf chewed on the ribbon while it was being paraded in the street, but Dr. Fisher says she still has the ribbon saved in a box. It’s one of her most prized possessions.
“Early 4-H experiences helped me learn to set and accomplish achievable goals. These experiences also helped me learn to make and nurture friendships,” said Fisher.
Dr. Fisher’s mother was the project leader for her 4-H club in foods and nutrition and Sue Fisher did a lot of sewing while she was in 4-H. “I was in the Fashion Revue almost every year with something and went to the state fair twice, once with a dress that I made out of some leftover fabric,” said Fisher.
She learned that sometimes, life doesn’t turn out like you planned. “I wanted to wear this very nice black wool suit I had made in the state fair. Then I made a simple red and white diagonal dress, and I got a purple ribbon. And I wanted to take my suit but couldn’t.” The diagonal dress made out of leftover fabric went to the fair instead.
As a junior 4-H leader for five to six years in her 4-H club, Fisher remembers helping a young girl in their club named Helen, who always came home from the county fair with white ribbons for her clothing projects. Sue was the clothing project leader and she offered to help Helen with her skirt. Sue recalls having to “take it out and do it again” but she also remembers with pride the moment that Helen came up to her holding a blue ribbon for the skirt project.
Their 4-H club had a band, and she led the band for five to six years. “Any kid in the 4-H club that could play anything was in the club band and we often won in the contests because there wasn’t any club band!” said Dr. Fisher.
After graduating from college with a degree in home economics, Dr. Fisher went to graduate school and was hired as a state 4-H specialist in Minnesota. “My first job was seventy percent 4-H and thirty percent home economics,” said Fisher: My focus was on programs for young mothers and young families, and for 4-H, I worked on programs for younger children. If you look at the array of clients extension programs have, the home economics program would work with young mothers and pre-natal, and then 4-H would take over when the children were a little older. I was to be that transition point.”
She later became assistant dean for 4-H and state 4-H leader at the University of Florida, and was the first woman to hold the position. “Dr. Fisher focused on leadership during a period of diminishing financial resources. Even during a period of downsizing at the state level, she maintained basic and core programs valuable to the 4-H program. At the same time she kept a positive future-focused view,” said Linda Denning, retired 4-H agent in Collier County.
She expected and supported the highest quality professional work and dedication in herself as well as her colleagues in 4-H. “I always thought 4-H was a tool for helping parents raise their kids. I learned that because of how my parents raised me,” said Dr. Fisher, who never forgot the lessons she learned as a young person involved in 4-H. “The individual projects and the group settings that we have in 4-H clubs enable young people to get that kind of confidence in public presence that allows them to be leaders and to be good citizens.”
“I have framed my 4-H leadership around provision of meaningful experiences and relationships for youth,” Fisher said. She supported quality curriculum in environmental education, improved 4-H camping facilities, and raised private funds. Under her leadership, the 4-H program in Florida reached out to thousands of young people in traditional 4-H clubs and school enrichment programs.
When she served as the interim national 4-H program leader at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Fisher helped design a national process to update project materials and curriculum regularly. She helped design and implement a national strategic plan for 4-H, and was known for her creativity, vision, commitment to youth development, and practicality.
“As a young state 4-H staff member who was hired in 1997 by Dr. Fisher, I found her to be a creative and visionary leader with a passion for youth development,” said Ami Neiberger-Miller. “She had significant influence on my career and her influence lingers with me more than a decade later.”
Dr. Fisher left her role as state 4-H leader in 1997 and continued working with the Cooperative Extension System in many other ways. Dr. Fisher was the interim leader of the state 4-H program in New York and provided leadership to the Minnesota 4-H Foundation during a time of change. She is also a consultant to the National 4-H Council.
Today, she sees new challenges facing 4-H. “I see a huge big focus on developing a better partnership with the private sector. I think that partnership will demand of the local 4-H agents a lot more accountability and a lot more rigidity in programs.”