Willie Haas has given her time unselfishly to 4-H for 82 years. She first became involved as a 4-H club member and then as a 4-H volunteer. Her ongoing commitment to excellence and her volunteer spirit are what make her a person of exemplary caliber.
She was among 4-H’s first 4-H club members. She became a 4-H member in 1918 when programs for boys and girls were organized separately. She did 4-H projects in food, clothing, poultry and food preservation. Haas became a public school teacher. She married her husband, Fred, but had to keep her marriage a secret until the school year ended. During that time, teachers were not allowed to be married. She became a homemaker and they had six children.
Through her tireless work as a 4-H volunteer leader for the McAlpin 4-H Club in Suwannee County, she touched the lives of literally thousands of young people. She became a 4-H club leader in 1946. When her 4-H club outgrew her living room, she spearheaded the construction of the McAlpin community center, which is here the club meets today.
“What I enjoy is the satisfaction of seeing little ten-year-olds that were shy and backward and seeing in two or three years how far they have come and be able to make a speech before 100 or more people. I get great satisfaction in what they have been able to do as adults,” said Haas.
Teaching youth the importance of giving back to the community were an important part of her 4-H club. Annually the club participated in the state’s Adopt-a-Highway program. They also make toys to send to needy children.
The lessons Haas teaches have paid off. “She always felt that you need to know how to communicate with people, whether you are a store clerk or a professional,” said Greg Hicks, Hamilton County 4-H agent in Jasper, who was in her club as a youngster and credits her insistence that everyone learn public speaking as an important influence on his life.
It is unusual to have a 4-H volunteer who sticks with the program after their own children are grown, said Tricia Heijkoop, former Suwannee County 4-H agent in Live Oak. “She has a dedication to the program and enjoys being with kids,” said Heijkoop, who says that Haas rarely missed a meeting.
“Her dedication to, and personal living testimony of, the ideals and philosophies of 4-H have been an inspiration to other leaders,” said Meredith Taylor, county extension director in Suwannee County.” It also compels parents to expect commitment to 4-H obligations from their children. This type of bonding to 4-H is a large component of what has made the 4-H programs in Suwannee County so strong for so long.”
Haas was selected as a volunteer of the year by the Florida 4-H Foundation in 1968 and 1987. She served on the Rural America Development Council. She was a member of the Suwannee County Historical Society and helped create and maintain the Suwannee County Museum. She worked on the publication of a book exploring the history of Suwannee County. She chaired public information for the Suwannee chapter of the Association for Family and Community Educators, an association she has been a member of for 68 years. Among her awards for community service were Suwannee County Chamber of Commerce Trailblazer Award in 2002, the Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year Award in 1986 and Kiwanis Club Service Award in 1963.
Haas was a member of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church of McAlpin, where she was a long time Sunday school teacher. She was on the executive committee of Suwannee Missionary Baptist Association and attended every service at her home church.
Even though her health did not allow her to participate in 4-H as much as she liked in her later years, Haas attended club meetings and served as the club’s advisor. She received a special award at the 2000 Florida 4-H Congress for her devotion to young people. Mrs. Haas passed away in 2006, but her legacy lives on through her family and 4-H members.