4-H Fix: March is Women’s History Month!

March is Women’s History Month!

By Ron Drum, Statewide 4-H Program Professional/Associate Director 4-H Resource Development

The year 1997 is not a year I like to remember.

That was a year when I lost a good friend.

She was only 54 years old when she died.

It was a terrible loss.

She was a beautiful, talented, intelligent woman whom everyone loved. In the all-too-brief seven years she led the Pine Tree State 4-H Foundation, she turned it from a relatively successful 4-H foundation into a professional fundraising machine for Maine 4-H. Any Maine 4-H Member who participated in any state, regional, or national 4-H experience, and many local and county one’s as well, in the 1990s benefited from the work of Evelyn Trotzky, Pine Tree State 4-H Foundation Executive Director, 1990-1997.

UMaine President Fred Hutchinson and PTS 4-H Foundation President Scott Johnson listen as Evelyn Trotzky makes a comment during the 1996 Foundation Annual Meeting.
UMaine President Fred Hutchinson and PTS 4-H Foundation President Scott Johnson listen as Evelyn Trotzky makes a comment during the 1996 Foundation Annual Meeting.

What a joy she was to work with. You never knew what she was about to do next! One day, in the middle of a meeting, Evelyn stood up and announced, “Let’s go and get some Chinese food!” Then she looked at me and in her slightly New York accent asked, “Whatdayasay?” It was only mid-morning, a tad early for lunch, and we still had a great deal to do but who could argue with Evelyn? Of course, I said yes! So we just left our papers on the table, jumped into her car, and off we went to her favorite Chinese restaurant, arriving almost as they opened for the day!

My memory isn’t good enough to recall what I ordered that day but I’ll never forget what she ordered — Hot and Sour Soup — the big bowl — extra spicy!

There she sat, a look of ecstasy on her face, as she ate her soup with tears streaming done her cheeks! “I love this soup!” she said between each spoonful after spicy spoonful. It was typical Evelyn! It’s how she did her job; how she lived her life — at high speed, to the fullest, engaging all of her senses! Everything she had she put into everything she did.

And what she did was amazing! She studied at the University of Geneva, received her BA from Wheaton College, studied at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, and then earned her Master’s degree in French at the University of Maine. She was a staff member of the United Nations Visitor’s Service in New York City, served as director of public relations and development at St Joseph Hospital in Bangor, and as director of community relations and development at the Kennebec Valley Mental Health Center, before taking on fund development for Maine 4-H. In her “spare” time she fulfilled her gubernatorial appointments as chair of the Maine Children’s Trust and as a member of the Maine Commission on Community Service. Of course, we can’t forget to mention her service on the board of directors of the Penobscot Valley United Way or the Jewish Community Council or being a member of the Bangor Junior League or of her church, Beth Abraham Synagogue.

Getting Evelyn to stop doing something, or even to slow down, was not an easy thing to do. Perhaps that is why, when she told us she was sick, we didn’t believe her. It just wasn’t possible. Perhaps that is why, in November of 1997 when she died, it came as such a shock — one that is still a shock today.

On July 23, 2016, I went to visit my friend. It took me a bit of walking and searching; it helps to look in the right cemetery. I was looking in the Beth Israel and she is in the Beth Abraham, but I finally found her in the far back corner of the Beth Abraham Cemetery. If you stand at the Korean War Memorial in Bangor’s Mt. Hope Cemetery and look across Mt. Hope Avenue, you’ll see an unpaved road. Follow that road and it will take you right to Evelyn. Her marker is a simple white marble stone. In fact, it reminded me of Evelyn — elegant, straightforward, and all class.

Evelyn Trotzky's grave marker

In one of her updates to the Maine Extension System, sent a few months into her illness, after describing some of the consequences of chemotherapy (“…many of you will see me, scarves, turbans, and all [no big deal], …I look pretty much the same, perhaps a little thinner, but with no less spirit and determination.”) she added this thought:

It’s about stopping to smell the roses. You and I and most working folks spend lots of time planning for tomorrow, that’s the way progress occurs. But I promise you from my vantage point that you can get just as big a high appreciating each morning sunrise, watching the crocus blossoms poke through the snow, and listening to the birds chirp as you walk along the Kenduskeag River. There is something to be said about living in the moment.

And she was just ONE of the amazing women Maine 4-H has benefited from through the years!

I suppose Ava Chadbourne might be the first woman Maine 4-H benefitted from. On January 23, 1914, she organized the first 4-H Club for girls in Maine — Macwahoc, ME, that is, a town in Aroostook County. You can read a bit about her on the National 4-H History Map. Zoom in on Maine until the Maine icons appear. Click on the push pin in Aroostook County. There you will find a few links you can then follow. One will tell you about Chadbourne Hall on the UMaine Orono campus. It was named after Ava Chadbourne!

In 1914, the first state 4-H program leader, F. Harold Bickford, after one year of service, resigned. He must have been pretty good though because TWO people replaced him! Ralph P. Mitchell was named State Leader of Agricultural Boys’ Club Work and Marie W. Gurdy was named State Leader of Agricultural Girls’ Club Work. Marie must have been pretty good, too! She actually started working a few months PRIOR to her official appointment date!

Marie Wilhelmina Gurdy was born in Rockland on Christmas Day, December 25, 1890, to Harry and Julia Gurdy. She was interested in, and found employment, teaching young women the home sciences. She held a bachelor’s degree but I am uncertain of the subject or the institution although I suspect Home Economics and the University of Maine. She held her 4-H position from 1914-1916. She probably would have stayed longer but on March 1, 1916, she married Brooklyn, NY resident Wilson B. Keene, getting married not in NY but in Maine. She died in February of 1971 having reached the age of 80.

Emily Morse
Emily Morse

Our next woman of note is Emily Morse, who, in 1914, was a ten-year-old 4‑H Member from Cherryfield, Maine. Cherryfield was so named because of all the wild cherries that lined the Narraguagus River upon which the Washington County town is located. Today the town is better known as “the Blueberry Capital of the World”! I wonder what happened to the cherries! Anyway, Emily is noteworthy because she was named the first state 4‑H champion during the first State 4-H Contest. It was held on the UMaine Orono campus December 21 – 23, 1914. This is a picture of Emily from 1916.

Actually, Emily was designated the 1914 4-H Gardening and Canning State Winner. From an earlier blog post we know she canned blueberries. I wonder if she canned cherries! Anyway, they didn’t start calling them “champions” until 1915 but it’s okay; in 1916 she beat out the 1915 Champion, Aroostook County’s Crystal Waddell of Mapleton, so earned the title back and this time could OFFICIALLY use the name “Champion”! In fact, she did it again in 1917 as well! Now that’s a champion!

In the early days of 4-H, when Emily was a member, 4-H was the responsibility of the County Agricultural Agents. That all changed in 1928 when the University of Maine employed five people to focus just on 4‑H in their respective counties. THREE of the first five Maine 4-H Agents were women: Effie Jones, Kennebec, Evelyn Plummer, Oxford, and Martha Corinne Merrill, Penobscot. Earle T. Blodgett, York, and KC Lovejoy, Waldo, rounded out the five.

Last October you read about Gladys Conant in the 4-H Fix. Gladys served Maine 4-H as a 4-H Volunteer for 68 of her 97 years, right up to the day she died in 2005. She was inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame the first year it opened, 2002. That in itself, is an honor she well deserved.

Karen Hatch Gagne
Karen Hatch Gagne

Back in 1947, 4-H Agents across the country created an organization they called the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents (NAE4-HA). In 2015, 3,738 4-H Agents were members of this association, including me. Of course, an organization needs leaders so they created officers for it, one being President. Each year those few thousand members go the polls and vote for the one 4‑H Agent among them that the members think should lead NAE4-HA into the next year. In 2008, that 4-H Agent was Karen Hatch Gagne, the only 4-H Agent from Maine to be so honored. Karen began as a Kennebec County 4-H Agent in 1976. When you are good at what you do, folks take notice. It only took a year for the folks in Berkshire County, Massachusetts to notice just how good Karen was and to steal her away in 1977! So she was “away” for a few years making 4-H happen in the Berkshires and a few more getting her Master’s Degree at Virginia Tech. Then in 1981, Karen came home to her old job in her old county, retiring in 2015 but not before serving, in 2008, as the only Maine 4-H Agent to be elected to the post of NAE4-HA President.

And, speaking of leaders, so far FIVE individuals who’ve given statewide educational program leadership to Maine 4-H have been women. Margaret F. Stevens, Aunt Margaret to the 4‑H’ers of Maine, was the first of those five. Born in Rockport in 1911, Margaret Stevens’s career brought her to the State 4-H Staff in 1951 as the Assistant State 4-H Leader. When KC Lovejoy retired in 1963, the program turned to Aunt Margaret. She led 4-H for the next twelve years, retiring in the bicentennial year of 1976. She was 97 years old when she passed away in May of 2007.

Maine 4-H’ers had to wait until 1989 for the next female 4-H Program Leader, Thea Cloutier. Thea served as State 4-H Program Administrator until 1994. Cathy Elliott is next in line serving 1998-2002. Shirley Hager succeeded her, 2002-2007, and Lisa Phelps, our present State 4-H Program Administrator, succeeded her.

Which brings us back to the Pine Tree State 4-H Foundation, or, as it is known now, the Maine 4-H Foundation. Who is the present Executive Director? Another woman, Susan Jennings. Susan had been the extremely successful 4-H Educator in Oxford County, serving since 1988, until, in 2013, she jumped into the role of Maine 4-H Foundation Executive Director. Susan has proven to be one of the best 4-H fundraisers Maine has known. Evelyn would have been proud. If you see Susan, say hello but don’t be surprised if she asks you for money; as I said in a previous blog post, that’s what you do when the words “Resource Development” appear in your title!

Was there a special woman who made a difference in your 4-H history? If so, write or email me about her. Include permission for me to use your comments and you may find yourself in a future “4-H Fix”!

Come back to The 4-H Fix in two weeks to enjoy an Original Maine 4-H Brownie, and I’m not referring to a chocolate, cake-like dessert!

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University of Maine Cooperative Extension conducts the state’s most successful out-of-school youth educational program through 4-H, a positive youth development program that has been empowering young people in Maine to reach their full potential since 1913.