4-H Fix: Where Are They Now? — Betsy Carroll

Where Are They Now? — Betsy Carroll

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

When I want to help folks understand what 4-H is, I often will tell my “Betsy Story.” It is one of my favorite stories to tell. The “Betsy” in the story, by the way, is Maine 4-H Alum Betsy A. Carroll Anastasoff.

Betsy Carroll seated on rocks in front of a light house
Star of the “Betsy Story”

Now the name may be familiar to you because I first introduced you to Betsy, and her brother Aaron, in October last year through the blog post “The Great Hay Relief of 1994.” The “Betsy Story” came a bit later. It happened in 1997. BTW, I have THREE favorite stories about her brother Aaron (the latest one occurring in 2016 when he introduced me to his almost-teenaged son!), but those will have to wait for another blog post. For now, here’s the “Betsy Story” and a little bit more.

On June 28-30, 1997, UMaine 4-H held its fourth annual State 4-H Teen Conference. This annual conference, held on the University of Maine Orono campus into the 2000s, was a program planned and implemented by a State 4-H Teen Council of which Betsy Carroll was a charter member and, in 1996, served as its President. At the end of the 1996 conference, Betsy, as usual, made it her job to send thank yous to the guest speakers.

Rep. Baldacci speaking during the 1995 State 4-H Teen Conference
Rep. Baldacci speaking during the 1995 State 4-H Teen Conference.

One of those speakers was John Baldacci, at that time the U.S. Representative from Maine’s Second District. A strong supporter of Maine 4-H, he always agreed to meet with 4‑H’ers when they visited his Washington D.C. office. However, he also made a point to come and speak to the teens attending the State 4-H Teen Conference in Orono! His 1996 visit was the second in a row, which, to all of us was a BIG deal! In all, he accepted the Teen Council’s invitation four times (1995, 1996, 1997 AND 1998), which to all of us was an even BIGGER deal!

Handwritten note, saying," Sincerely, Betsy. P.S. I believe the only one left is Balacci -- And we should do something special?"On August 7, 1996, in a follow-up note, Betsy reported that all thank yous had been sent regarding that year’s conference except Baldacci’s. Because of his on-going support for 4-H “…we should do something special” for him, she said.

Discussed at the next Teen Council meeting, it was decided to make him an honorary Maine 4-H Member. With proper administrative approvals, the Teen Council invited Rep. Baldacci to return as a speaker for the 1997 conference and to receive this honor.

Rep. Baldacci receives his honorary plaque
Rep. Baldacci, 1997’s newest Honorary 4-H Member.

Eighteen-year-old Past-President Betsy was tasked with introducing Rep. Baldacci to the 1997 conference attendees. Conference Assemblies were held in the largest room in D.P. Corbett Hall. Set-up as an amphitheater, this semi-circular room’s seats look down upon a raised stage in the room’s front. So there we sat, approximately 75 teens from across Maine, the Council Officers, me, and John Baldacci in the front row, as Betsy walked across the stage to the podium to make her introduction. After the usual greetings and some brief remarks about bestowing honorary Maine 4-H Membership upon Rep. Baldacci, she said, “Oh, Rep. Baldacci, one last thing I want you to know before we begin. I want to tell you about the Maine 4-H Staff, like Ron and the others who run 4-H.” Baldacci looked over at me and smiled. A little embarrassed I smiled as well and wondered just what Betsy was up to, hoping whatever it was, it was good, because this was “off-script”!

Of course, why wouldn’t it be good? She knew what was a stake and even though Baldacci was a supporter of 4-H, things could quickly change if the wrong messages were sent. Both Baldacci and I knew that, too, as we leaned forward in our seats.

Just as sweetly and calmly as anything she began, “Mr. Baldacci, I want you to know that these 4-H people (now pointing at me); they are all liars.” And then she paused for dramatic effect.

The effect was dramatic.

It took a moment for her words to soak in. I asked myself, “Did she just say ‘liars’?” Baldacci must have been experiencing the same confusion because he sat there looking at Betsy for a moment and then, ever so slowly he turned to look at me with the perfect example of puzzlement etched on his face. I have no idea what was etched on mine!

While reminiscing with Betsy about this incident recently, we came to “the pause moment.” After a bit of mutual laughter, this High School Student Counselor, looking at it from her new perspective, grew serious and told me, “Having students present to an audience now as a counselor, I can’t even IMAGINE the heart attack you were having! That was BRUTAL! And yet, AWESOME! Now that you reminded me, I do remember the LONG pause and thinking ‘Oh Crap. I hope this is okay!’”

Finally, Betsy started speaking again. “Yes, liars!” she repeated. “When I joined 4-H, I thought I was going to learn about stuff like raising beef steers! That’s what they told me! They told me I was going to learn about beef steers or photography or sewing or cooking or one of the many other things you can do in 4‑H. Oh, I did learn those things but what they were REALLY teaching me, what they were secretly teaching me, was record keeping and public speaking and leadership and citizenship and all of those things you need to know to be successful in life! They didn’t tell me they were going to be teaching me all that stuff! They LIED and told me I’d be learning about beef steers and photography!”

I began to breathe again.

Baldacci flopped back in his seat and, obviously relieved, began to laugh along with everyone else in the audience. Except me. I don’t remember laughing. I remember hoping the blood would soon return to my brain.

And that was Betsy. When she had a point to make, she made it, and she made it in such a way that you remembered it! I bet if you asked him about this today, Baldacci would still remember it, but also remember that 4-H isn’t about the projects the members take, but about the life skills the members learn.

It is her sincerity that makes you remember her. She cares about people and she cares about causes, SINCERELY. In a 1995 thank you note to the University President, Fred Hutchinson, for giving opening remarks at the 1995 State 4-H Teen Conference, she added (to my boss’s boss’s boss, the University PRESIDENT), “Ron Drum is an instrumental part in the success that 4-H experiences today. His encouragement and positive attitude make working with Extension a pleasure.” Apparently not wanting to leave anyone out, she then added, “John Rebar (then State 4-H Leader and my boss) and Vaughn Holyoke (then John’s boss and Director of Extension) are also very helpful and cooperative.” It would have been funny had it not been so darn sincere!

And that attitude, sincerely caring about the people around her, and letting them know that, carries right into today. Today Betsy is a high school guidance counselor for Gorham High School. In an article that appeared in the Gorham Times (v21, #6) about opportunities available for female students traditionally seen as only for male students, she is quoted saying, “Girls in high school are kind of shy about doing something that isn’t your traditional thing. They need to know they don’t have to fit that mold. There is potential beyond your appearance; if you are passionate about a trade you should go after that.” She goes on to say one shouldn’t worry about others’ opinions.

She not only says stuff like that, she lives stuff like that.

After 4-H, I attended St. Joseph’s College and majored in English. I graduated from college and on July 1, 2000, married my high school sweetheart, Alex Anastasoff. I was hired as an English teacher, which I did for 14 years, and we purchased an apartment building and renovated the building as we were living in it. Note to self: never renovate while living in the space. We went on to purchase more apartment buildings, opened a landscaping company, Lawn Enforcement, which we sold a couple of years ago. Currently, we own and operate a laundromat, own several apartment buildings which we rent, and most recently we have opened a brewery in South Portland named Fore River Brewing. Oh, and through all of this I completed a 63 credit Master’s Degree in School Counseling and am raising two boys, Peter (13) and Nicholas (9). Busy!

And of course, as we’ve seen above, she not only achieved the Master’s Degree but has put it to good use, presently meeting the needs of students as the 10th grade counselor at Gorham High School.

It was because of her brother, Aaron, that she first got involved in 4-H. “I joined 4-H because I could see how many cool experiences my older brother, Aaron, was getting involved in and I did not want to miss out,” she told me. Usually, young people join 4-H when they are 8 or 9, sometimes even younger. Betsy joined the York County 4-H Beef Club in 1992 when she was 13 and just starting High School!

Initially, my 4-H project was photography; I wanted to become club photographer, but I later became more involved in the citizenship aspect of 4-H. I also became a member of the Maine State 4-H Teen Council and planned the Maine Teen Conference on the campus of the University of Maine at Orono. This was by far one of the greatest learning experiences of my teenage years. The collaboration with a variety of stakeholders: fellow 4-H members, skilled professionals with connections to 4-H and public leaders taught me a great deal about how to capitalize on individual strengths to best achieve a shared goal.

Betsy presenting at the 1995 Pine Tree State 4-H Foundation Annual Meeting.
Betsy presenting at the 1995 Pine Tree State 4-H Foundation Annual Meeting.

Although relatively new to 4-H, Betsy rose quickly. This was a talented girl! We (Maine 4-H) sent her to Citizenship Washington Focus in 1994 — just two years after she joined 4-H! She came to the first State 4-H Teen Conference in 1994, liked it so much that, on her own, came to the evaluation meeting and asked to be part of the 1995 Conference planning team making her a Teen Council Charter Member. In 1995 (October 15, to be exact) the State 4-H Teen Council elected her as their 1996 Council President — unanimously! That year, 1995, I wrote, “Betsy is intelligent, creative, and kind. Her intelligence, strong character, and great ability will fill in where her experience is lacking.” I can now say, looking back, “I wasn’t kidding!”

President Betsy Carroll “surfs” the web during the 1996 S4-HTConf.
President Betsy Carroll “surfs” the web during the 1996 S4-HTConf.

In 1996 we asked her to represent Maine 4-H at TWO national events. First, we designated her to be a delegate to National 4-H Conference, in my opinion, the highest honor a 4-H Member can receive. Then we topped that by asking her to represent Maine’s 4-H members at the 1996 Extension Lay Leaders Leadership Conference held in Washington, D.C. The Lay Leaders conference was an annual national event during the 90s. It brought together teams of 4-H Volunteers from various states and provided them with opportunities to network and share ideas with each other while attending leadership development workshops. As part of the conference, these teams also visited members of their Congressional Delegations on Capitol Hill educating them on Extension and briefing them on current Extension activities.

Remember, in 1996, Betsy was just 17.

Of those two national experiences in 1996 she once said, “How many people my age get to do things like that?” The answer, of course, is “very few.” However, there are very few like Betsy. She served as secretary of her school’s student council. She was captain of her swim team. She was a journalist for the school newspaper. She was selected as the state science fair winner for her plant biology entry. She was a member of the Academic Decathlon Team. She was not only a member of the National Honor Society (NHS), but served as a member of the Society Selection Review Committee! Come to think of it, she was also a member of the State 4-H Awards Selection Committee (the group that identified Maine’s delegates for out-of-state trips) after she “graduated” from 4-H, that is.

You know, she missed being selected for the NHS the first time up. Although she fit all of the criteria for membership 100%, at her school NHS membership applications were voted on by a faculty panel. Apparently, she lost that vote. Who in their right mind would have voted against this girl? That it happened, however, caused enough of a stir that they took a second look and, after considering “outside community service” (which I assume means her 4-H activities) they reversed the decision and admitted her.

However, it didn’t end there, not with someone of Betsy’s caliber! “I thought it was very unfair, especially since I met all the qualifications for it,” she said. And if it was unfair, she was going to do something about it. So through her leadership as a member of the Student Council, she got the process changed. The new process added a five-member board that reviewed the faculty votes to ensure no one deserving slipped through again.

Oh, also, she graduated 16th out of a high school class of 165. That kind of makes you wonder what those other 15 were like but than she did take several college-level classes in her senior year, like Advanced Placement English and Statistical Math. Not making excuses but classes like those might have opened the door a tad for a few of the other 15 to squeak past, maybe, not saying that’s what happened.

I’ve been accused of using a bit too much hyperbole at times. I admit it. I get enthusiastic about teens, like Betsy, and sometimes get extreme. But if that is true in this case, her high school Principal, Jim Stephenson, suffered from the same problem. He once referred to Betsy as “a model student whom other students should follow.” He also said, “She is a bright, mature student. She’s a real leader who will do very well at whatever she does. I have no doubts of Betsy’s success at college.” He could have added, “or anything else.” I did.

But what else would you expect of someone who, at age 17, said, “My goal is to know exactly what I want, because once I know what it is, I’m positive that I can get it.” I think that falls under the category of “driven.”

At age 17 she also was quoted saying, “…I love 4-H so much, because it makes me feel so good to help people.” Then she added this thought, which always, by the way, makes me smile when I read it, “To me, it sounds like a greedy reason, but it’s the truth.” Greedy? To want to feel good about helping people? Well, I get her point but how many people, at any age, would ever turn the thing around in such a manner as that? Unselfishly humble to a fault!

Betsy recently told me that 4-H had a big impact on her life.

I think 4-H really helped me to stretch myself to become more of a leader. While I was active in school activities, there was a big world outside the walls of school. I learned how to bring people together to work toward a common goal and many other important skills such as public speaking and advocating for myself and my community. I believe I am a stronger and more resilient person today because of my 4-H experiences.

And of 4-H itself, she recently told me (and remember, this is a professional guidance counselor speaking, who really SHOULD know):

4-H is a great opportunity for kids and teenagers to really get involved in something meaningful to them. The hands-on learning experiences encourage developmental growth and maturity. This is a win-win situation because kids are having fun and learning essential skills to be a responsible citizen and community member. Although our society has changed a lot since I was a kid, the fundamental skills that my 4-H background encouraged are the same skills kids need today.

I happen to agree with her.

One last thing. President Hutchinson responded to that thank you letter Betsy wrote back in 1995 thanking him for speaking at the State 4-H Teen Conference. After thanking her for the opportunity to speak and saying a few kind words suggesting he agreed with her analysis of the quality of his staff, he added, “I’m sure that the opportunity to work with young people such as yourself is one of the major reasons that Mr. Drum remains positive and enthusiastic about his work.”

That suggestion would be a true statement even yet today. It was CERTAINLY true in the 1990s while I had the pleasure to be working with, and learning from, Betsy Carroll.

On June 23 we say to the 4-H Fix, “Waheesh! And be quick about it! We can’t wait to hear the story about Maine 4-H alum, Heidi Thuotte-Palmer and the 4-H Working Steer project!”

Were you a 4-H Member?

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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.