During his 31-year tenure as a 4-H Extension Agent, Robert Renner was directly involved with many innovative projects, including the development of the 4-H Honor Club in Marion County.
He became the 4-H agent in 1973 in Marion County. “His innovative non-traditional 4-H programs reached over 5,000 young people each year,” said James Glisson. “Through Bob's leadership and tireless efforts, Marion County has a traditional 4-H program which is second to none in the United States.”
As a firm believer in learning leadership by doing, Renner implemented the first summer camp to utilize senior 4-H members in leadership roles. He also included team building as part of the program. His 4-H club members stuffed more than 10,000 stockings with the Salvation Army for disadvantaged children.
His judging teams in horticulture, forestry, and poultry were legendary. “He has trained over 100 state-winning judging teams and twenty-eight national champions. He has had over 370 state record book winners and 370 state demonstration winners. He is the "John Wooden” and "Bear Bryant" of 4-H agents in this country,” said Glisson.
The Florida 4-H Embryology project book was written by Renner, and adopted for statewide use by the Florida Cooperative Extension Service. He authored more than fifty publications to help young people learn. He also developed the first sheep show in Florida.
While he has given a lot to 4-H, Renner feels like he’s received much in return.“Working with 4-H has given me so much,” said Renner. “I’ve been able to watch kids grow from 8 to 18, go from college to careers to now having kids in 4-H. It’s been amazing to be able to watch the whole process and be a part of that.”
So what does Renner feel 4-H can offer youth today? “Anyone who is willing to work hard can be successful in 4-H,” said Renner. “It’s a program that’s not athletically-oriented. You don’t have to be the most gifted kid or the most popular kid to be successful in 4-H. Kids today need a place to belong.”
“Bob Renner is unique among youth agents,” said retired state 4-H specialist B.J. Allen. “His ability to relate to individual needs and develop individualized programs without interrupting the normal program’s flow is uncanny. His leadership and guidance of the Marion County 4-H program set standards assimilated in his district and throughout the state.”
“I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of good things happen in my career,” said Renner. “One of the best has been having kids place faith and trust in me and come to me as a mentor. That means a lot, knowing that I’ve made a difference and impacted lives in a positive way.”
Renner was a charter member of the Florida Association of Extension 4-H Agents and was very active in its founding. He was also a trustee with the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents.
Even though Renner has retired from the Florida Cooperative Extension Service, he still finds time to volunteer for the program he loves. He currently teaches poultry judging to Marion County 4-H members and participates annually in the Marion County 4-H Golf Tournament.
He serves as an instructor for Marion County’s Community Technical and Adult Education at the Sheriff’s Inmate Farm in Ocala. There, he utilizes 4-H curriculum to instruct inmates in horticulture and poultry production. You could say – old habits die hard – even in retirement.