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Wedding, tragedy spurred lengthy journey for 2018 Ross County Friend of 4-H

CHILLICOTHE – When Steve Gary took his vows nearly 45 years ago to love and honor his wife, Judy, he may as well have added the words, “and love and care for generations of area children who are not my own.”

“He knew when he married me, he was marrying 4-H,” said Judy not elaborating on how you may fit an entire youth program into a wedding dress. “I am known as Mrs. 4-H. That’s what my license plate even says, that’s what they named me years ago.”

Steve had only one year of 4-H participation under his belt as a youth, having completed and entered a lamp as an electrical project. His union with Judy 13 years later, however, launched him on a 44-year journey with the program that Sunday night resulted in hearing his name called over the grandstand speakers as the 2018 Friend of 4-H.

“To me, it’s a prestigious award, I have actually received it in two counties — I’ve received it in Pickaway County and Ross County both,” Steve said. 

It’s definitely an honor that runs in the family. Judy was a previous recipient of the Friend of 4-H award, and both of her parents, Glenn and Ruth Anderson, also have been presented with the honor.

While there’s been a lot of triumphs for the family and their Clarksburg Jolly Beef Feeders club over the years, it was actually a tragedy that helped spur Steve’s involvement.

“What really got me involved is we lost a son (Christopher) to a drunk driver,” he said. “My customers (at the savings bank where he worked) just started bringing in checks right and left to do something. So my bank matched it, my wife and I and my mother-in-law put a $32,000 account in the Pickaway County Community Foundation, and we started making (scholarship) grants the first year. We’ve given about $24,000 or $25,000 — of course, that account has grown tremendously over the years — because I saw how much the boys liked 4-H and it really impressed me.

“Chris loved camp, so that’s what we do is give camp scholarships. It gets kids out, it gets them to open up and to really become model citizens, I think. I’ve never seen a bad kid in a 4-H club yet, and we’ve had as many as 75 (participants) in our club in one year.”

Calling himself the “man behind the scenes” of the club, he has taken leadership roles in the program beyond the Clarksburg area. He has served two terms on the 4-H advisory committee, three terms on the state 4-H Foundation board, and volunteers on other district and state advisory committees. He was a significant contributor to the Ross County 4-H Plaza at the fairgrounds. 

During Sunday’s presentation, 4-H Youth Development Educator Katie Feldhues got a few laughs as she shared with the crowd gathered for the king and queen contest one of Steve’s most memorable moments.

“One Saturday evening, he traveled across the county to build an outhouse for the 4-H members to decorate and put wheels on it for that contest,” she said. “Thinking he knew best, he loaded the outhouse but did not strap it down in the back of the truck. Needless to say, it fell out on the highway. 

“Steve quickly turned around in heavy truck traffic and returned to the scene of the accident, where he discovered the fancy, decorated outhouse was unharmed and in one piece. He never loaded anything so quickly in his life.”

Shortly after the laughter died, Judy’s eyes watered a bit as she watched her husband push himself to his feet to accept the award, having earned the right, perhaps, to take on an honorary title of “Mr. 4-H.”

Maybe, with Sunday’s honor, there’s another license plate change in the couple’s future.