100-year-old Hartselle woman’s 4-H experience not unlike today’s youthPublished 10:28am Thursday, January 3, 2013
Janet L. McCoy
Special to the Enquirer
Mildred Morris Stephenson remembers her 4-H projects fondly – cooking, canning and sewing. Her favorite memory? The friendships she made with other young people from around Alabama.
While Mrs. Stephenson’s memories are not unlike today’s Alabama 4-H’er, the timeline is much different. Mrs. Stephenson was an Alabama 4-H’er nearly 90 years ago.
The Hartselle resident, who will celebrate her 100th birthday in December, says 4-H was a significant part of her life growing up in the north Alabama community of Danville, near Hartselle. She was a 4-Her in the mid to late 1920s.
“My earliest memories of 4-H are meeting with other girls, playing games and lessons of some sort,” Mrs. Stephenson said. “4-H was a joy in my life.”
It was because of 4-H that Mrs. Stephenson traveled outside her home county for the first time. “We went to Auburn, and I was one of two chosen to attend a camp or meeting,” she said. “We went by train and I was 14 years old. It was in 1926.
“We had so much fun attending classes, playing games and having devotions. We had programs on developing women to become better homemakers.
“When we left Auburn we were much wiser.”
Mrs. Stephenson also attended camp, Camp Ki-Wi, as a youth near Cold Springs, Ala. “I went every summer for a week and had the best time. I learned crafts at camp.”
And while the technology of today wasn’t available in Mrs. Stephenson’s youth, she remarkably kept a pen-pal friendship with an Australian girl for more than 38 years. “She was from Buckleboo, Australia and we wrote each other at Christmas and on birthdays.”
Mrs. Stephenson was valedictorian at Danville High School and was offered a scholarship to the University of Montevallo, but instead chose to marry and start a family.
The skills Mrs. Stephenson learned in 4-H were put to good use when she married in 1931. “Those were depression times and she canned and sewed for her family,” said daughter Ginger Nolen, one of two children by Mrs. Stephenson and her late husband, Bill. Her son died in 1998. “She made all her clothes, and all our clothes and she taught me and other family members to sew as well.”
As a mother, Mrs. Stephenson encouraged both of her children to be involved in 4-H, and she often volunteered to help with programs. She was also involved with the Hopewell Homemaker’s Club in the Hartselle area, serving that organization for more than 60 years. She also served as church librarian at West Hartselle Baptist Church for 35 years, and the church honored her by naming the library in her name.
Several of her grandchildren have been involved in Alabama 4-H, winning awards for sewing and other projects. Her grandchildren are now adults.
Mrs. Stephenson has lived her entire life in Morgan County, now living in Hartselle with her daughter and son-in-law. She reads her Bible daily and, as a former avid gardener, loves to sit in the sunroom and watch flowers grow and leaves change seasons. Many of the plants in the Nolen’s back yard are seedlings or cuttings from the Stephenson home place, yet another reminder of home to Mrs. Stephenson.
McCoy is the State Activities and Events Coordinator for Alabama 4-H & Youth Develop-ment.