Sara Nicholson says she can still remember the excitement she felt when, in the late 1930s, she heard that a 4-H club was going to be started at the Rutledge Alabama School near where she lived in Crenshaw City, Alabama.
“I was so excited to join, and absolutely loved 4-H,” said Mrs. Nicholson. She was only able to be in the club for one year, but as a young mother in 1969 she became reacquainted with 4-H as she looked for activities for her children. Mrs. Nicholson and her husband, Dan, have volunteered as 4-H leaders ever since.
The Nicholsons were leaders of the Orange County Dixie Shamrocks 4-H Gardeners from 1969 to 1991. Club activities were publicized by submitting articles to a local newspaper. They have served on the Orange County 4-H Advisory Board since 1980. They also served as members of the Orange County 4-H Foundation Board for several years.
Their involvement with 4-H extended to opening up their home to others. The Nicholsons hosted Anna Brosgaard, an international 4-H member from Denmark through the International 4-H Farm Youth Exchange program. They remain in contact with Ms. Brosgaard and view her as a close family friend.
The Nicholsons say their 4-H involvement greatly enhanced their lives and made them better people. “I needed the interaction with other people,” said Mrs. Nicholson. “It was such a positive way to get to know people, and in turn, I learned so much about myself. Dan and I are better people because of our association with 4-H.It taught us to accept each child as an individual. It taught us to make the best better. We learned right alongside these kids.”
Mrs. Nicholson feels that 4-H is just as important to young people today as it was to her when she was a young school girl in rural Alabama almost 70 years ago.
“Kids need a place to belong,” said Mrs. Nicholson. “There needs to be something for kids who want to go this route. It serves a real purpose for those who want this kind of information and like the demonstrations and competition.”
The life skills the Nicholsons imparted to young 4-H members stuck with them for life. “Dan and Sara helped many 4-H members become confident students in club work and life with demonstration and public speaking training,” said Jay Hebert with Orange County 4-H.
Nicholson also feels that 4-H helps young people with their long range goals. “Through 4-H a young person can learn more about interests they already have, say in veterinary sciences, or gardening. This can be a jump start for their education and career path. For others, it may help them find they have a talent or an interest in something they didn’t realize existed. There is a whole wonderful world out there for those who want it,” she said.
How do the Nicholson’s feel that the 4-H program has changed over the years?
“I don’t think the essence of 4-H has changed,” said Mrs. Nicholson. But things can get lost through the years, that’s why I’ve stuck with it to help preserve the essence of what 4-H is,” she noted.
Nicholson fondly remembers one dedicated agent who she worked with at Extension. “You can spot the dedicated leaders the second you see them. There is a big difference between the agents who are there for a paycheck and the ones who have the kids’ best interest at heart. Terry Floyd really loved those kids and it showed. He was there for the love of it.”
Photography has been a lifelong hobby for the Nicholsons, and both say they loved photographing their 4-H members so they could remember their accomplishments. They were able to photograph several of their club members winning at the state level.
The Nicholsons were selected as Orange County 4-H Volunteer Leaders of the year. Because of health constraints, Dan Nicholson has had to slow down a little on his 4-H work, but Sara Nicholson continues to help with the Central Florida Fair through the 4-H advisory board. The Nicholsons also remain active in the Pine Hills Church of Christ and enjoy their three children and extended family.
When asked about her feelings for 4-H, Mrs. Nicholson quotes Albert Schweitzer, “Sometimes our light goes out, but it is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.”