VESTABURG — Alice Hoitinga was 20 years old and married just one year when she decided to help her community.
A local 4-H horse leader where she was living in Allegan County retired in 1961, so Hoitinga stepped in to help. She continued her passion when she moved to the Vestaburg area with her husband, Tony.
Fifty years later she’s still going strong.
Montcalm County 4-H leaders recently presented Hoitinga, 70, with a certificate, pin and flowers to honor her for 50 years of service to the organization.
“Once it gets your blood, you don’t want to give it up,” Hoitinga said.
Wide ranging career
Hoitinga has been a leader for the North Central Saddle Club, comprised of 4-H’ers from Vestaburg, Edmore, Stanton and Crystal. She has served as a club leader, council member, fair board member and livestock committee member, among a variety of other roles.
Most of the Hoitingas’ three children and 11 grandchildren have been involved in 4-H. Alice Hoitinga volunteered even when her own children were born.
“Tony would help take care of the little ones while I went to 4-H,” she said. “As they got older, we would joke that he would go hunting and I would go to 4-H. That was our hobby.”
The couple are retired dairy farmers. Tony never served as a leader, but he helped Alice behind the scenes.
“He let me do my thing. He always encouraged me with it,” she said.
Pat Schuster, president of the Montcalm County 4-H Fair Board, said Hoitinga has been a remarkable asset for the local program.
“She is one who has generously given of her time and finances to help anywhere it was necessary,” he said. “Alice and her family are the kind of people that would do anything and everything we needed.”
Hoitinga retired from leading her club but remains active in grooming the next generation of agricultural leaders.
“She isn’t going anywhere. We won’t let her,” Schuster said.
Hoitinga has seen many changes in 4-H over the last five decades.
She said the organization is seeing dwindling numbers of participants as it competes against a wider variety of youth activities available through Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts and churches.
“There are a lot of opportunities now that they didn’t have years ago. It has taken a toll on 4-H,” Hoitinga said. “But there are a lot of families who have a 4-H background who stay with it.”
Children who do participate in 4-H are able to stay in the program longer, Hoitinga said. Young children now are able to begin with Clover Buds and remain active for a decade or longer through high school.
The most difficult change for Hoitinga has been technology. She doesn’t have a computer and said she doesn’t know how to operate one.
“I could probably learn how, but the young people who will take over the club for me will know about them already,” Hoitinga said.
Hoitinga now is working with children of some of her earliest 4-H’ers from decades ago. The grandchildren of some 4-H’ers from her time in Allegan County also are involved in the program.
Hoitinga is proud when she hears of her former 4-H’ers making agriculture their career.
“It is a really great thing when you hear of some of your kids continuing on in agriculture careers,” she said. “I know of some who are grown up and now raising a herd of beef cows or have a flock of sheep and they have been out of the club for years and years.”