WINFIELD TOWNSHIP — For many 4-H’ers, their affiliation with the youth program ends about when they graduate from high school.
For three former members of the Winfield Hustlers, 4-H became a lifelong career.
Matt Newman, Michelle Neff and Dan Rossman were all members of the Winfield Hustlers, Montcalm County’s oldest 4-H club, which celebrated its 60th anniversary last year. Today, all three work for Michigan State University Extension.
Newman is the 4-H program coordinator for Gratiot County, Neff is an educator for MSU’s Children & Youth Institute in Clare County and Rossman is a senior educator for Gratiot County.
The Winfield Hustlers are believed to be the only 4-H club in the state of Michigan to have three alum working for MSU Extension.
Life lessons from 4-H
Rossman was a Winfield Hustler from 1966 through 1976, when he graduated from Lakeview High School. He recalls the 4-H club as an active one, meeting once a month in the old Winfield Township Hall where the fire truck was stored.
Rossman says 4-H taught him many valuable life lessons, including leadership, public speaking skills, the importance of doing quality work and finishing tasks, teamwork, respecting, helping and sharing with others.
“For several years, the members in the foods project planned and conducted a total meal preparation demonstration at the fair,” he recalled. “Other years, we all got together and sampled each other’s practice pies, cookies, cakes and breads. The members with vegetable gardens held annual garden tours. It was a big incentive to get all the weeds out. The members in the photography project visited professional photographers and their darkroom facilities. They also went on photo shoot trips. Woodworking projects were crafted at one of the family’s small shops. Leathercraft projects were tooled and laced at another family’s home. Crop projects were pretty much worked on with our fathers’ supervision and training.”
Rossman graduated from MSU in 1980, majoring in crop and soil sciences. He graduated on a Saturday and began working for MSU Extension the following Monday. He went on to earn a master’s degree in adult education in 1986.
As the senior educator for Gratiot County, Rossman is responsible for conducting educational programs in crop production, farm management, entrepreneurial business training, leadership development, organic farming and land use. He also conducts farm research and demonstration trials, evaluating variety performance and agronomic practices.
Rossman is also MSU’s product center counselor, meaning he provides assistance for new food or ag-related start-up businesses.
Rossman is preparing to retire 34 years with MSU Extension. He was recently honored with the Michigan Association of 4-H Youth Extension Staff’s Colleague Award in recognition of his support for 4-H programs.
“Living away from the area, it is difficult to keep in contact with many of the previous club members,” he said. “I have attended the Montcalm County Fair several years and have even judged at the fair and other fairs in the state. I attend annually the Gratiot County Fair for Youth. I have been a 4-H leader here in Gratiot and all of my children have been active 4-H members.”
More than a club … a family
Newman grew up in Amble and participated in 4-H from 1989 through 2000, when he graduated from Lakeview High School.
When Newman thinks back to the Winfield Hustlers, he remembers 4-H leader Dale Ulrich handing out ice cream sandwiches, 4-H meetings at the homes of Dick and Patty Hyde or Frank and Joan Taylor.
Newman’s own mother, Mary, was the club’s cooking leader and hosted cooking sessions at the family house, meaning Newman got to eat the finished projects.
“When I look back on my days as a Winfield Hustler, I am reminded that more than a club, we were a family,” Newman said. “When I was younger, I thought I was going to the fair to win a trophy or a ribbon. Now I look back and realize that I was learning about myself and others, gaining valuable knowledge on cooperation and friendship that will last a lifetime”
Newman earned a teaching degree from Grand Valley State University. His first job was teaching freshman geography, a job he obtained through the recommendation of Deb Ulrich Rodgers, a fellow Winfield Hustler. Newman went on to volunteer in the Peace Corps in the eastern Europe country of Albania in eastern Europe from 2007 to 2009 and the South America country of Guyana from 2010 to 2011 before becoming 4-H program coordinator for Gratiot County in 2012.
As 4-H coordinator, Newman is responsible for expanding the reach and effectiveness of 4-H in Gratiot County. He has helped develop several new 4-H programs in Gratiot County, including an archery club and a robotics club. He also serves as chairman of the Central Region of the Michigan Association of Extension 4-H Youth Staff, is the onsite coordinator for Michigan at the 4-H National Congress in Atlanta, Ga., and serves on the planning committee for the statewide 4-H Winterfest event in Tustin.
Newman says he remains in touch with his fellow Winfield Hustlers on a regular basis, including at the recent wedding of Tracy Ulrich Jernstadt.
“Though time and space may be between us, we make it a point to get together whenever we can,” he said. “What is incredible about the Winfield Hustlers is that even if members have 10, 20 or even 30 years of age between them, we all share something in common and are always able to come together to share a good story and an even better laugh.”
Neff was a member of the Winfield Hustlers from 1987 to 1997. She could not be reached for comment for this article by press time due to a death in her family.
The Montcalm County 4-H Fair will officially get underway today with the announcement of the 4-H’er of the Year at 6 p.m. in the Ash Foundation building.