Ruth Milton’s relationship with 4-H has been blooming for nearly 70 years. As a young girl in Marion County from 1936 to 1938 during the Great Depression, Milton participated in food, clothing, gardening and canning projects. She also represented Marion County at 4-H Girls Short Course, the early forerunner of Florida 4-H Congress was held on campus at Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee (which later became Florida State University).
Milton credits 4-H with giving her direction in life. “4-H was such an important part of my life as a young girl,” said Milton. “It taught me leadership skills and opened a whole new world for me. It helped me understand that I could go to college and helped me figure out what I wanted to do once I got there.”
Following graduation from high school, Milton attended Florida State University where she earned both a Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree in Education and Childhood Development. While in college she remained active in the College 4-H Club and assisted with the Girls Short Courses at the University.
Following graduation, Milton worked as a teacher for five years before returning to her 4-H roots. She began working for the Florida Cooperative Extension Service in 1952. She became a home demonstration agent and managed programs in Hillsborough, Gulf, Taylor, and Manatee counties before joining the State 4-H Extension staff.
She worked for the State 4-H office for 32 years until her retirement in the late eighties. During her tenure here Milton produced and edited many 4-H publications, program guides, manuals and handbooks including co-authorship of “4-H Develops Capable Citizens”, a chapter in Dimensions in History. See her job description.
“Back when I was on the state staff we didn’t have a lot of the color printing that we do now,” said Milton. “I recently visited the State office and it was so wonderful to see all the projects the staff there is able to do with their computers. It all looks wonderful!”
In spite of not having the technology tools available today to the state 4-H staff, Milton’s impact on young people was profound. A former 4-H member wrote this to Milton, "I continue to be very grateful for the 4-H training I had, especially leadership opportunities and public speaking. You were a big part of that experience. ."
Milton is well-known in the 4-H community as a dedicated and highly-productive youth development professional with a focus on designing programs with learning outcomes for 4-H youth. She has been nationally recognized for her leadership with the Florida 4-H Legislature and Community Pride 4-H programs – projects she holds close to her heart.
Begun in 1973 with friend Henry Morgan, the State 4-H Legislature program teaches young people how government works and how laws are made. Held annually in Tallahassee and using the real legislative chambers at the state capital, young people act out the roles of lobbyists, press corps, and legislators in a hands-on and co-ed learning laboratory in state government. The popular program remains active today.
The Community Pride program in Florida encouraged young people to make a difference in their communities by conducting a community improvement project. Over the years, the program has resulted in the donation of hundreds of hours of community service.
“One of my dearest treasures was helping start the State 4-H Legislature program,” said Milton. “I think that program, and developing the Community Pride Program, were the highlights of my career. I so enjoyed watching the young people develop such great leadership skills and enjoyed helping them take their projects into their own communities.”
It is the fundamentals of 4-H that Milton feels youth need today more than ever. “I don’t know of any organization that provides more for young people today than 4-H,” said Milton. “It’s vitally important for today’s youth to learn leadership skills, to understand the value of taking responsibility and working with others. They need to learn the habits of work and gain a sense of obligation to their communities. 4-H can show them the way.”
Throughout her career and retirement Milton has remained active in many professional and community service organizations. She was a member of the Florida Association of Extension 4-H Agents, the Florida 4-H Foundation, the State Extension Home Economics Association, the League of Women Voters, the Pilot Club and the Woman’s Club.
Milton recently retired as an active Deacon for Westside Baptist Church in Gainesville and now serves on its Activities Council. She also volunteers with “Home Bound” an organization that works with seniors in local nursing homes.
She reflects on her experience in 4-H. "Involvement in 4-H helped to make me what I am today. I learned the value of hard work, taking responsibility, and working with others to make the best better.”
4-H is still influencing Ruth Milton today. “I credit 4-H for teaching me how to volunteer,” said Milton. “There’s no way I could not volunteer after all I’ve learned from 4-H.”
Each year she visits Florida 4-H Congress to recognize a recipient of the Florida 4-H Foundation scholarship that bears her name. Milton has built a legacy that lasts.