Ridenours top 4-H leadersPublished 10:50am Monday, March 25, 2013
Gordon and Deborah Ridenour, of Niles, made history Thursday night at Dowagiac Conservation Club by becoming the first married couple to capture Cass County Leaders’ Association outstanding 4-H awards.
Gordon is Leaders’ Association second-term president, so it took creative maneuvering to keep the surprise intact before it was announced to 120 people. The award has been given since 1976. There is a requirement leaders must serve at least five years, which the Ridenours, of Sleepy Hollow, met this year.
Their selection was an unprecedented unanimous nomination.
All five letters named the same two people, including the fair, key leader Bobbie LaBar (who won in 2010), project leaders and parents.
Their five years with Sleepy Hollow coincide with the prolonged recession.
“We had several kids their parents didn’t know if they could show in the fair because of the economy,” Deborah said. “Money was so tight. We were fortunate we still had jobs. We set up our campsite at the fair and did fundraisers so the club could pay for the main dish, then everyone brought side dishes, like scalloped potatoes or a bowl of coleslaw. The club as a whole ate together every night,” with Gordon at the grill.
“Doing that made the decision for several kids to show,” Deborah said.
“They didn’t have to carry in food or go out on the midway to that expense,” Gordon added. “It cost the average family two or three dollars a night versus $15 to $20. Every year, I see something. Last year, I built a picnic table.”
Sleepy Hollow, which has grown to 26 members, had a dozen members showing horses.
“Our club has doubled in size in the last five years,” Gordon said. “Bobbie lives between Dowagiac and Cassopolis. We meet in Edwardsburg. We have kids come from St. Joseph and Elkhart counties in Indiana, St. Joseph County in Michigan and one family from Allegan.”
Neither comes from a 4-H background. Deborah is a “city girl” from Orange County, Calif., the urban home to Disneyland.
Gordon, a Michigan State Police maintenance mechanic, was in some horse clubs growing up in Elkhart County, “but I just wanted to have fun at the fair. Our horse club did volunteer work with the handicapped. I really broke my wife in hard when she married me. She’s not a country girl.”
Deborah schedules surgery for a South Bend clinic.
“I didn’t know 4-H existed until I starting dating him. I was a Girl Scout and a Girl Scout leader. He still laughs at me when I’m in my muck boots out in the pasture,” she said. “I was a single parent when I left California 10 years ago. The smog, the traffic, the schools were horrible. I just wanted out and better for my daughter, so I moved to Paw Paw. It was a couple of years before I would let my daughter get a pony to teach her responsibility for chores — and, as a teenage girl, something to focus on besides boys.”
2012 outstanding leaders Joyce Miller and Lori Ray presented the silver platters.
Ray cited Gordon’s handyman skills and grilling meals at the fair. At club meetings, he works with youth officers to insure they learn procedures so they run smoothly.
Miller said Deborah “takes an active role in introducing youth in the club to new still project areas and uses technology, like Facebook, to keep members up-to-date on what’s going on within the club.”
At one meeting, Deborah showed girls how to braid horse hair into friendship charm bracelets.
Each described their immersion into 4-H with the same words: “We jumped in with both feet.”
Sleepy Hollow, primarily a horse club, has diversified while growing.
“We’ve got kids showing rabbits, chickens, turkeys, goats,” Gordon said. “I’ve taken on a lot of barn stuff,” including indoor plumbing and electrical for outside fans blowing in. “I designed and built tack boxes. My two daughters graduated, so we’ve got one daughter left in 4-H and a grandson, 4, who will be up there in a couple of years.”
“(4-H is) one of those things you slip in with everything else in life. Fortunately, my job is flexible and allows me to get involved in what is an important organization to the kids,” Gordon said.
The organization’s executive committee kept its secret well.
“I sign everything, but they told me it was ‘in committee,’ and I let it go and never gave it another thought because I’ve got enough things to do,” he said.
“I almost wasn’t here tonight,” Deborah said. “We’ve got guardianship of our grandson, and I wasn’t bringing him to this. Then my daughter said she’d watch him so I could accept my five-year award.”