Weida Ringly is no stranger to 4-H. In fact, her commitment to the 4-H program has been woven through her life, starting when she was a fourth grader and extending to today.
Ringly, who grew up in Olive Branch, Miss., was a member of both her school and community programs and focused primarily on the dairy project. On her birthday during her first year in 4-H, her grandfather gifted her a registered Jersey heifer calf and her love for the dairy project only grew from there.
“I did not treat it as a pet, but respected it for being an animal who would one day grow up to be a huge animal with the purpose of providing milk for human consumption,” Ringly says.
Through her work with the 4-H Dairy Project, Ringly was able to work with her father who incorporated some of her newfound knowledge into his farm and the family’s farm became the top-producing herd in the state of Mississippi for more than a decade.
During her college years, Ringly served as a camp leader, an educator and she served as a school club leader. When she retired, Ringly became a volunteer leader for the Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries Project group.
“I have seen the value of 4-H on youth development up close and personal, and I believe it is the best youth-development organization available today,” says Ringly. “We need to give back – both with donations and time. Youth are our future and there are many great opportunities just waiting for someone to give back.”
During her time as a 4-H youth, Ringly was a member of clubs that placed a heavy emphasis on community service and she frequently participated in outreach projects, including making quilts during winter months, preserving food in the summer and even helping a family rebuild their lives following a fire.
“I learned to appreciate the value of giving back through 4-H and I have never forgotten the value of community service during my lifetime,” she says.
RIngly is a huge advocate for the program and would encourage all 4-H members to give back to the program in some way.
“There are many opportunities for volunteers to mentor youth through 4-H, but you can always donate any amount of money (large or small!) to help fund the activities.”
1. Where did you grow up and what 4-H Club were you part of?
I grew up in Olive Branch, Miss., (DeSoto County) on a dairy farm. It was a very rural area when I was growing up but has become a rather large extension of the Memphis metropolitan area today. It was the largest dairy-producing county in the United States during my youth but does not have a single dairy farm today. I attended elementary through high school at Olive Branch and was a member of the school and community clubs there starting when I was in fourth grade. Both my parents attended the same schools and were members of 4-H. My mother belonged to a community Home Demonstration Club, which included a community 4-H Club for the children of the Home Demonstration Club members. I was a member of both clubs.
2. What 4-H activities were you involved in?
I was involved in lots of different activities and projects during my 4-H school days. My main project was the Dairy Project. My grandfather gave me a registered Jersey Heifer calf that was only a few days old for my birthday during my first year in 4-H.
Our county had a community 4-H Club for the children of the members of the Home Demonstration Club. I still have my first craft project completed during that time – it’s a little brown jug bedside electric lamp.
I also participated in the county contests, district and state fairs, and traveled to other fairs to show our animals. The dairy project was my first love, and having my very own dairy animal to love and care for taught me most of the important life skills for my adult life.
One important lesson was learned when this calf died from eating sorghum sprouts after frost had fallen. 4-H agents helped me to see that this probably was a positive experience because you can imagine what it would have been like to have a grown cow sitting in my lap. My grandfather replaced the calf with another registered heifer and I did not treat it as a pet, but respected it for being an animal who would one day grow up to be a huge animal with the purpose of providing milk for human consumption.
The guidance that the extension gave me with the dairy project made a difference in my father’s management practices of our farm. He switched from the average cow to registered Jersey and eventually to registered Holstein. Our farm was the top-producing herd in the state of Mississippi for more than a decade.
Our club was very active with service projects. One service project that I especially remember is when one of the club member’s houses burned and they lost everything. Our community helped to rebuild and restore the family’s house and furnished it with furniture and everything. During that time in my life there were no fire departments, only volunteers to help fight fires. While we were working on this project, the school bus would drop us off at the house where the project was being held and we would help until everyone went home for the night. We also did this during the winter months to create quilts that were used when someone needed quilts.
During the summer, the Home Demonstration club also met to preserve the food from the gardens. We would meet at a different house each time and preserve whatever vegetable or fruit was in season and it was shared with everyone in the small community.
There were so many lessons learned through these experiences. I learned how to preserve food for my family and have used that skill for a lifetime. The most important lesson learned was to be caring and helpful and together everyone can accomplish much more.
3. What was the biggest lesson you learned from your time in 4-H?
There are so many life lessons that I could list that were learned through the 4-H experience, but the greatest lesson I have learned is the value of being caring, helpful and giving back to the community in service and the value of teamwork. I cannot repay all those caring and helpful people who helped me directly, but I can give back to others in the same way that they have shared with me. Learn to be a team player and pass your love and passion on to the next generation.
4. What is the thing you are most proud of in your career?
I am probably the most proud of all of the successful youth that I have had the privilege of being a very small part of their lives. It is rewarding to see young people you have had the privilege of working with go on to become teachers, engineers, ministers, bankers, lumber graders, farmers, golf course managers and many other occupations, and remembering them and know that their time with you had an impact on their life and friendships, no matter how tiny.
5. If you could give one piece of advice to a 4-H student, what would it be?
Make the most of your 4-H years. The 4-H development really can give you skills that last a lifetime.
Being able to explore careers, opportunities for service and leadership, plus friendship are valuable skills that are learned through 4-H. Learning to be a leader and a follower and working as a team will lead to a successful life. The friendships made through 4-H will be your most cherished and lasting.
6. How has 4-H impacted your life even after you graduated from the program?
4-H has impacted my life in so many ways. My decision to become a teacher was greatly impacted by the Home Demonstration Agent that led our community club. My love, appreciation and passion for agriculture and 4-H definitely came from those experiences. I learned to appreciate the value of giving back through 4-H and I have never forgotten the value of community service during my lifetime. It is the most rewarding experience to work with youth and observe their growth and development and enjoy their friendship. I can remember all the caring adults that helped me along during my youth and be grateful and willing to give back.
7. Why is it so important to you to continue to give back and donate to 4-H and what message would you have for recent alumni about giving back?
I have a love and passion for 4-H that started when I was nine years old and has continued today. I was active during my school years as a member, and I continued to stay connected by volunteering to help in summer camp while in college and always led a school club as a teacher. When I retired, I became a volunteer leader for the Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries Project group. There are many opportunities for volunteers to mentor youth through 4-H, but you can always donate any amount of money (large or small!) to help fund the activities. I have seen the value of 4-H on youth development up close and personal, and I believe it is the best youth development organization available today.
We need alumni to give back – both with donations and time. Youth are our future and there are many great opportunities just waiting for someone to give back. I have a love and passion for 4-H. My blood does indeed run green!
8. Where are some interesting places you’ve been or things you’ve done thanks to opportunities provided by 4-H?
I was able to visit city fairs when I was showing dairy animals and participating in the dairy judging contest in cities like Jackson, Miss. and Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Jackson, Tenn., as well as many other small towns in Mississippi.
The trip to National 4-H Congress in Memphis was a highlight and one that I have remembered for a lifetime. Although Memphis was just a day trip from our farm, the big-city experience of staying in a hotel and attending all the activities was something I had never experienced before. I still have the placemat favor from the banquet -– it was a miniature cotton bale because cotton was king in Memphis during that time.
I have traveled to the University of Tennessee, UT Martin, Tennessee State University and other locations in Tennessee for 4-H contests.
I have had the opportunity to take a forestry judging team to the National Invitational on two occasions. This contest is held at the oldest 4-H camp in the country and is steeped in history as it is the birthplace of Andrew Jackson.
Getting to know the counties in both Mississippi and Tennessee has also been fun, interesting and valuable.