LARCHWOOD—When Ruth Rens learned she was to be inducted into the Iowa 4-H Hall of Fame this year, it was a complete shock to her.
The 75-year-old rural Larchwood woman recalled sitting at an awards dinner in July at the Lyon County Fair in Rock Rapids with her husband, John. Their grandson, Henry, had invited them to the event after convincing them he was going to be winning a 4-H award instead.
“He said, ‘I don’t know what award I’m getting, but yeah, I think it’s pretty important. I think you should be there,” Ruth said.
At the dinner, however, she did not see Henry and kept wondering where he was as various 4-H’ers were called to the stage to receive project awards.
“Then they started talking about this award, and all of a sudden, I heard my name,” Ruth said. “I just sat there, and my daughter-in law was sitting just kitty-corner from me. And I guess I started crying.”
Her induction into the Iowa 4-H Hall of Fame, which took place Aug. 18 at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, is the culmination of her lifelong involvement with Iowa 4-H.
Ruth, who is originally from Sioux County, is the youngest of six siblings who were all involved in 4-H. She was even born during the Sioux County Fair.
“So it’s been a part of my life. I didn’t know any different,” she said.
When she was a 4-H’er in Sioux County, Ruth fondly remembers going on camping trips to Okoboji with other club members. She carried on the camping tradition when she became a club leader in Sioux County and later Lyon County, taking her kids camping at Newton Hills State Park in South Dakota.
“That was always fun, quite an experience because we usually pitched tents and didn’t have fancy campers like people have nowadays,” she said. “It was roughhousing camping.”
Ruth was a club leader of a few 4-H Clubs in Sioux County before moving to Lyon County after she and her husband married. Just a few years later, she continued her 4-H involvement by volunteering with the all-girls Lester club in 1972.
She volunteered with the club for about 25 years, during which time she saw herself grow in her leadership abilities.
“Especially when I came here, I didn’t know anybody hardly. I mean, married into the farm, so to speak,” she said.
Since she had previous experience judging contests and exhibits at county fairs, her name was familiar to the 4-H community in Lyon County and allowed her to eventually rise as a leader in the community.
Beginning in the 1980s, Ruth began working at the South Dakota State University Extension in Sioux Falls, where she taught low-income children about nutrition. Unlike her work with 4-H, however, she said this was paid work.
“I’d work with kids in after-school programs, basically, is where I got most of the kids and during summer programs and tried to teach them a little bit about food and nutrition,” Ruth said.
She also taught them about meal preparation and provided low-cost meal recipes they could share with their families at home.
Ruth worked with the Sioux Falls Extension for nearly 20 years, during which time she remained in Larchwood and continued her involvement with Lyon County 4-H.
Looking back on her two-and-a-half decades of volunteering with 4-H, Ruth said she is proud of seeing kids she used to lead step into leadership roles and have kids of their own who are involved in 4-H.
She also has enjoyed seeing the expansion of 4-H project categories offered to kids, besides the few categories that were offered when she was a 4-H’er such as food and nutrition, clothing and livestock.
“The 4-H motto is ‘To make the best better,’” she said. “I don’t know if I was ever the best, but we tried to always make things a little bit better.”