Don Dodds marks 60 years with local 4-H Clubs
BY DENNY SCOTT
Winthrop-area farmer Don Dodds recently marked 60 years as a volunteer with the 4-H program, having been a leader for numerous groups, including the 4-H Swine Club, which he has been a part of since 1960.
Dodds says he started as a leader with the local swine club in 1960, but he was a 4-H member when he was much younger. His 4-H member career ran throughout high school, but came to an end in his second year of university in Guelph.
“I started as a member in 1951,” he said. “I have a trophy hanging on the wall that I won that year that got me off to a real good start.”
His 4-H career started with the local swine club when a neighbour asked him to take part. “My dad helped me and we went out to purchase pigs, and we had a pair to raise,” he said.
While Dodds stayed in the 4-H program when he went to university for his first year, he ended up leaving it the second year of his post-secondary school career due to the logistics of travel and time.
During his time as a member, he was in several groups including the grain club, machinery club and financial club, the latter of which he would eventually come back and lead.
After he came back home, Dodds was asked by neighbour Bob McMillan to help with that same swine club.
“In 1960, he wanted to quit, and came and asked if I would help out as a leader for a year or two,” Dodds said, laughing that the two-year period never ended.
Dodds has stayed with that swine club for the full 60 years he has been a leader, helping out with other clubs, like financial clubs, money management clubs and the computer club when it first started up. Dodds said he has been a primary leader for the swine club, but for many of the others he was the second leader, there to back up the primary leader and make sure there were always two leaders available.
He’s also helped out for years with the plowmen’s club, which has since become the Sodbusters Club. “I helped and judged for years,” he said.
While his son Paul was competing, he got involved in plowing and afterwards, he helped Brian McGavin to run the club.
While Dodds has never regretted being part of the 4-H organization, he says he does remember, at different times in his career, wondering why he was running a club meeting when he should be harvesting or haying. He says, however, it always comes back to the fact that he enjoys it and loves giving youth an opportunity to experience it.
“One of the things that stands out in my mind is that, years after I’ve been a leader to some kids, I will run into them,” he said. “I have them in a club when they’re 12 to 14 years old, and now they’re 30, and I might not recognize them, but they come along and say thanks for being a leader. That helps whenever we’re working through things. It makes it all worthwhile.”
He said he also loves seeing members become leaders years after, or going on to pursue work in agricultural fields, pointing to The Rural Voice contributor Kate Procter who was in the swine club he led for a number of years.
“One year after she had left the club, I had no one else to help me lead and she helped until I found someone,” he said.
Procter currently works as a research assistant at the University of Guelph and works in rural planning and development.
“Kate is one of the members that went through the club, and now, we can see where she ended up in the community,” Dodds said. “That’s a positive part of 4-H as far as I’m concerned.”
Dodds also said Ryan Baan is an example of a former member of the club who has gone on to great things.
“He’s now with 4-H Canada,” Dodds said. “I had him in the swine club, both him and his brother Adam, for two or three or maybe four years.”
Dodds said he remembers Baan being a great member, to the point that, at the annual sale for the swine club, Dodds bought one of Baan’s animals.
The swine club has changed a lot over the past six decades, Dodds said, but, like today, it started with between 10 and 20 members annually. He did say that number spiked significantly several years after he started when it saw nearly 80 members join.
“Two or three years after I started, the Hog Producers (now the Pork Producers) were concerned about the quality of pork in Huron County,” he said. “We worked with the [Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food] and the producers and went out and bought pigs for everyone that wanted to join.”
He said that incentive brought in a significant number of members, eventually hitting 78 members, each of whom had two animals (one to sell and one for breeding stock).
That shed light on one of the practices from the 1960s that Dodds misses now: farm visits.
“I can remember Don Pullen was the assistant for the program and he and I did farm visits,” he said. “It took us over two days to do all the farm visits…. That’s one thing I do miss: we used to do farm visits, and visit members on their own farm. That’s when you really get to know the members, their parents and their situation.”
Farm visits aren’t employed anymore due to biosecurity issues, Dodds said, and while he understands the need for the change, he does miss the connections that came with those visits.
The modern swine club routinely has 14 to 18 members after the club’s annual sale took over the slot of the hog carcass competition at the Seaforth Fall Fair.
“The members and the public really appreciate the sale,” he said. “I appreciate that the fall fair board helped us set that up and get it started.
“We take pictures of the pigs and the members, and buyers really support the purchase of the pigs,” he said.
While the sale won’t be happening this year, he looks forward to it returning. He also looks forward to new members, especially for the swine club.
“We’re basically looking for farm youth that can be involved and raise pigs at home,” he said. “We try to teach them the basics about food and health and biosecurity for their properties.”
Dodds said that anyone can be involved, adding that some members don’t live on a farm, but know someone who does and they work together to make being part of a club work out. He said families and parents really shine when it comes to 4-H practices.
“If it wasn’t for the help of the parents, the two clubs I’ve been leading lately, the swine and Sodbusters clubs, wouldn’t work near as well,” he said. “We have to have the support of the parents. That is very, very important. The families and parents have really supported us and that helps out the 4-H leaders to make the programs work.”
Dodds said the same could be said of his own family, with all his children participating and his wife Maja often joking about being a “4-H widow” at some points when things are busy. “I couldn’t have done it without her,” Dodds said.
While the clubs have changed since he started, and the organization is no longer under the wing of the government, he said practices are different than in 1960, but it’s worth the growing pains to make it work, he said.
“When someone comes back and says thank you, it makes it all worthwhile,” he said.
Dodds said he doesn’t know how long he’ll continue with the organization, saying that as long as he’s healthy and can be of some assistance, he’ll still be a leader.
“I love working with the kids,” he said. “Sometimes they drive me nuts, but I love it all the same.”