Lester Kalch readily admits the course of his life was changed by his involvement with 4-H.
He joined 4-H in 1938 during the Great Depression. As a 4-H member, he was involved in vegetable gardening and raised poultry – both broilers and layers. He was especially active in poultry judging, and was an active member of the Miami-Dade Poultry Judging Team. He went to the State 4-H Poultry show in Orlando where he had the highest individual score. He was a member of the state 4-H champion poultry judging team.
“Way back in 1939 I was awarded a trip to Florida 4-H Short Course at the University of Florida in Gainesville,” said Kalch. “Until that point I didn’t know the university existed and that gift from 4-H changed my whole life.”
Following a great week of learning new things and interacting with leaders from the University and 4-H community, Kalch returned home to finish high school. His trip to the national poultry judging contest was cancelled when World War II broke out. By the time Kalch graduated World War II was raging and he joined the Navy, but once the war was over Kalch was at a crossroads.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, then I remembered the University and the people I had met there,” said Kalch. “I didn’t even know I was interested in agriculture until I won that trip to the Short Course. It was an easy choice at that point.”
Kalch returned to the University of Florida where he spent entire weeks of time running the State 4-H Poultry Show in Orlando and judging county 4-H shows. He eventually graduated with a PhD in agriculture. At that point the course of his life and career became forever connected to 4-H and the County Extension Service. He started out as an agricultural and 4-H agent in Alachua County in 1952.But he soon went back to the University of Florida campus to lead poultry education programs statewide.
He worked as an Extension poultry man for 30 years and served as the state extension specialist in poultry from 1954-1981. Kalch conducted state poultry programs for 30 years and in 35 counties in Florida. He developed the 4-H chick embryology projects and the poultry barbeque project. He coached two national champion poultry judging teams and was a member of the national poultry judging contest committee.
After retirement, Kalch continued to work with 4-H by judging contests and providing training programs for youth.
“4-H is such an important program for kids,” said Kalch. “Having been in it myself I recognize the value in it. You learn by doing - a lot is left up to you. Rather than reading about it and doing a report on it, you learn by doing which is the best way to learn in my opinion.”
Kalch is often a guest speaker at Rotary, Kiwanis and 4-H clubs throughout the state of Florida spreading positive messages about 4-H. Hard work and dedication have paid off for Kalch, who will always be known for his perseverance in the 4-H program.
“4-H affords an opportunity for boys and girls who will take that opportunity,” said Kalch. “It’s an opportunity to learn something and progress if you take that opportunity.”