Joan Odom was raised in Houston County, Alabama by a hard working farm family. It was through her rural roots that Odom met one of the great loves of her life: 4-H.
“I have had a love affair with 4-H for more than 50 years,” gushed Odom. “Oh my goodness, I was raised in 4-H.”
Odom remembers as a young girl eagerly anticipating the time when she was old enough to join 4-H.
“Back then, in our county 4-H was done through the schools and I couldn’t wait to be in it. I was the outdoors type and there were so many different activities I could be involved in,” said Odom.
Odom joined 4-H in the 4th grade and remained active all through her school years. While attending Ashford Senior High School, Odom started a 4-H club that grew to more than 300 members.
“I remember that club getting so big we would have to hold our meetings in the gymnasium,” said Odom. “That was such a great experience. The school – they just let me run with that thing. My advisor just turned me loose with that.”
Odom was a three-term president of that club, which was one of Alabama’s largest 4-H clubs ever.
While a club member, Odom’s project areas included clothing, foods and nutrition, home improvement, health, safety, gardening, public speaking, and entomology. In 1959 she was the Alabama State entomology winner.
“The man that directed my entomology project, Dr. Ledbetter, took me to a high level of projects,” said Odom. “He was the County Extension Agent in Dothan and he was so smart and knew so much about insects - you would not believe the beautiful insects and butterflies I brought out of the woods.”
One such beautiful insect Odom found stumped even Dr. Ledbetter. ”He was smart and knew everything and even he didn’t know what it was,” said Odom. “I had to send it to Auburn (University), and it took them a few months, but it turns out I found a pine beetle that was thought to be extinct. That was a thrill. Some of the happiest moments of my life have involved 4-H.”
Odom credits her decision to attend college, and especially Auburn University, to 4-H.
“Of course there was no question where I was going to go to school,” said Odom. “After my first visit to Auburn University for a state event I knew that’s where I wanted to go. My dad was going to send me to Troy State and I had never crossed my parents before that, but I was going to Auburn.”
Odom worked every odd job she could to save enough money to attend the University, but once there became overwhelmed and homesick and decided to drop out.
“My Extension Agent, Cherry Gary, could sense from my letters that there was something wrong. She got in her car and drove all night long to get to Auburn to talk to me,” recalls Odom. “She reassured me that everything was going to be okay and made sure I was going to stay. After that, I settled in just fine, and my mom and dad never found out that I was all packed up to come home.”
Odom’s training in 4-H led to a natural career choice as a home economics major. With her degree, Odom now works as a Family and Consumer Sciences educator at J.R.E. Lee Opportunity School in the Miami-Dade county school system, where she has been for the last 22 years. Odom’s students, many of whom are in high-risk situations, participate in 4-H.
“There are so many things the 4-H program teaches that today’s kids really need to know. Things like perseverance, meeting deadlines, or trying to get a project tweaked to meet a high level of expectation. To prepare something and stand before a panel of judges and have it taken apart. To feel the gratification of a job well done. These kids learn some really valuable life-lessons,” said Odom.
Odom and her students are heavily involved in 4-H, with many of their projects involving interaction with or service to the commuity.
“We have a community project each year where the club is involved with the greening of the Dearing Estate in south Dade each holiday season. Each year the estate is thrilled with the quality of their work—and they have very high standards,” said Odom. “It gives my kids great pride to be able to give back to the community.”
Prior to her current job, Odom had eight additional years of teaching at Deerborne School, Miami International Fine Arts College, and Miami Christian School.
Odom continues her involvement as a friend of 4-H, has served as secretary of the 4-H Foundation, worked as a volunteer foods and nutrition teacher at the “After School House”, and as a 22-year sponsor of the “Honor 4-Hers 4-H Club”. In addition to her service with 4-H, Odom stays busy with her involvement with the Florida Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, District J Program of Works officer, and the Deering Estate Museum Holiday Greeting Committee.
“4-H is a win-win situation for me,” said Odom. “It encompasses my personal value system and my work ethic. I love 4-H.”