Gene and Cordella LaRoe are a husband and wife team that have volunteered for Lake County 4-H since 1970. But their involvement with 4-H began in childhood when both of them were Lake County 4-H members.
Gene was a 4-H club member in Eustis, while Cordella was a 4-H club member in Tavares. Each was recognized with a trip to 4-H National Congress and they were involved in many 4-H activities. Cordella went to National 4-H Congress in the home improvement category, while Gene went for his project work in electricity.
After their graduation and their marriage in 1956, they became 4-H leaders first in Alachua County, then Manatee County and then finally back in Lake County.
In 1970, they started the Golden Triangle 4-H Club in Lake County, which is still active. Gene was influential in starting the Shooting Sports program in Lake County and continues his involvement of time and finances as this project area grows.
Cordella is recognized most for her teaching skills, especially in the clothing construction projects. Many 4-H members learned to sew under her watchful eye. She has also taught bread baking, home improvement, and food preparation. Many of their club members participated in Fashion Revue, or “Dress Revue,” as Cordella called it, at the county, district and state levels.
One of their 4-H club members, Amber Grayford, remembers the sewing lessons she took with Cordella, saying “I quickly learned that sewing was not as easy as sticking material under a sewing machine. There were so many steps (finding the right pattern, cutting out the pattern, pinning, etc.) which all built up to the finished product.”
Learning to master sewing was not easy, but Grayworth remembers how Cordella LaRoe would encourage her through a difficult spot in the project. “So often I would become frustrated at the tangled thread, or the crooked seams, but Mrs. LaRoe was always ready and willing to help. I do not know how she did it, no matter how big my mistakes were, she would just smile and say that it wasn’t a big deal and we’ll just try it again. “
Mrs. LaRoe carries a never-ending belief in supporting young people through a project. “Her patience and optimism gave me motivation, and the end result was always worth the work. While Mrs. LaRoe was always available if I needed help, she felt strongly that these were my projects, and if they were ever going to be completed, I had to keep trying. She would not do it for me,” said Grayworth.
Amber says that her sewing lessons with Cordella LaRoe in 4-H also taught her valuable lessons about life. “Now that I have graduated and moved on to college, I understand what important lessons I learned from Mrs. LaRoe. She taught me to sew, but more importantly she taught me that patience and hard work are more valuable than natural talent. “
“Even though I may not be a genius, that does not mean I cannot accomplish great things. I also learned that to reach any goal in life, I have to take small steps to get there. And while I can ask for help on the way, there is satisfaction in knowing that I pressed on and completed what I began,” said Grayworth.
Gene LaRoe has guided youth in gardening, electricity, small engines, and livestock projects. He is very active in leadership with the EGC Target Teens, where he instructs youth enrolled in the 4-H shooting sports project. He is also on the Board of Directors for the Eustis Gun Club, which provides financial support for the 4-H shooting sports program.
The LaRoes are deeply admired for their work with the 4-H program. “For more than my twenty-five years of employment with Lake County Extension, I have observed the LaRoes as they remained involved with the county’s 4-H program. At a time when many 4-H volunteers have retired from volunteering, Gene and Cordella continue to volunteer. They are the epitome of lifelong 4-H volunteers,” said Deborah Boulware, Lake County extension director.
“Recently on a cold, wet night, Cordella and Gene arrived with blankets to sit on hard metal benches for hours. Why? They were attending the Lake County 4-H/FFA Livestock Show at the county fair to watch their granddaughter show her 4-H steer. While others left the cold and wet area, they stayed through the show to support 4-H,” said Boulware.
In addition to their work with 4-H and raising their own family, the LaRoes were foster parents for many years. They always involved their foster children in 4-H projects. They welcomed Tina, a two-year-old with spina bifida into their home, and adopted her several years later. Tina excelled in clothing construction and fashion revue, and went to National 4-H Congress in Chicago.
Their 4-H involvement occurred alongside their working careers. Cordella was a surgical nurse for many years. Gene is now retired from the Orange County Public School System, where he taught handicapped children. Cordella is also a member of the Lake County Quilters Guild and Daughters of the American Revolution. She is secretary of the Lake County and Grand Island/Tavares Community Home Education Club which provides judges for 4-H events, as well as 4-H summer camp scholarships.
The LaRoes mentored other 4-H volunteers, and have worked with hundreds of 4-H members. Their current 4-H involvement continues at many different levels. The LaRoes are working to make the newly organized Lake County 4-H Foundation a success, and were its first alumni contributors. Both are still involved with teaching youth in shooting sports and clothing projects as well as judging for county 4-H programs.
Cordella and Gene LaRoe’s decades of service and dedication to 4-H youth are deeply appreciated and their impact has been truly profound.