After 45 years, Keller's service to 4-H finally draws state attention

Joenita Keller gets help from her son to hang backdrops for the 4-H Fair at the Family Living Building at Hier’s Park in Huntington on July 22.
Joenita Keller gets help from her son to hang backdrops for the 4-H Fair at the Family Living Building at Hier’s Park in Huntington on July 22. Photo by Matt Murphy.

Nearly three-quarters of a century ago, Joenita Keller joined 4-H after a few of her friends and her siblings became part of the local club.

Decades later, in 2009, Keller is still assiduous in her work for 4-H, and she can be seen working hard getting Hier's Park ready for this year's 4-H Fair - that is, if one can keep up with her.

After years of volunteering with 4-H, Keller has been selected to receive one of four Indiana state "Friend of Extension" awards in November in recognition of her years of dedication and commitment to 4-H. Last year, she received the Huntington County award of the same name.

Keller has been a 4-H leader for years, starting a club in Salamonie Township with a friend when her daughter joined, teaching knitting and sewing to girls in the "Rekamemoh" ("homemaker" spelled backwards) 4-H Club.
Her husband, who died in 1984, led the "Boys' Blue Ribbon" 4-H Club.

"In those days, there were separate clubs for boys and girls," she says.

Eventually, Keller and her husband joined the clubs to form the "Best in All" Club.

Over the years, Keller has served on the Dress Review Committee and the Queen (now Royalty) Committee, has been superintendent of the Family Living Building and has helped judge and organize judging.

Keller never left anyone out of 4-H, giving special attention to those who needed to learn differently.

"I taught the lefties how to knit by sitting across from them," she says.

Keller's 4-H Club was also one of the first in the state to have a special-needs club member in the late 1980s, something she says she's "really proud of."

"It taught the other boys and girls that people who are different can still join in and be involved," she says.

Keller says that the state 4-H organization pushed for involvement of special needs children a few years later.

"I guess I was ahead of my time," she says.

Some of Keller's fondest memories were of club members coming to her home to learn skills such as sewing and knitting.

"Those were fun times - helping someone learn something," Keller says.

Keller has been a 4-H volunteer long enough to see some of her 4-Hers go on to become productive citizens in the community, noting Rosie Wall of the Huntington County Chamber of Commerce as a former member of her club. She also says that some of her club's former members have had careers in the armed forces, and some have become 4-H leaders themselves.

"It's very rewarding," she says. "But I think all of them have become good citizens. Not many 4-Hers get into trouble."

All five of Keller's children were 4-H members; four were 10-year members, and one was a nine-year member. Four of her grandchildren have also hit the 10-year mark.

However, despite all the joy she has had in being a part of 4-H, Keller says that this is her last year to be a 4-H leader.

"I thought it was time," Keller says, as her last grandchild will graduate from 4-H as a 10-year member this year.

"After all this time, it's hard to give it up. I'll probably still have my hand in though," she says, chuckling.

Keller received her first Outstanding Leader Award in 1990, which is bestowed by other 4-H leaders based on volunteer hours and community involvement. She is a member of Solid Rock United Methodist Church in Warren. Keller has also helped with the Salamonie Summer Festival in past years. She currently resides in Warren.

"My friends tell me I make them tired," she says with a smile and a laugh.