Billie Stevens has always felt at home with 4-H families.
She was born in one herself and joined the program as a fifth grader. Now, decades later, she’s the local 4-H staff chair and is making sure that there are plenty more families who will carry on Hood River Valley’s 100-year-old 4-H tradition.
“I work long, hard hours, but watching the kids grow and have fun makes it worth it,” said Stevens as she prepared to visit the Horse Grand Entry at the county fair last Wednesday. The day before, she was up at 5:30 a.m. to help bring animals to the fairgrounds.
“I try to get to all the events for at least a little while to support the kids,” said Stevens.
She also checks in on around 100 4-H members who volunteer at the fair.
“I run back and forth helping superintendents with questions,” said Stevens. “I make sure they have what they need to do their jobs.”
Before the fair, most of Stevens’ planning involves organizing a competent staff of superintendents, clerks and volunteers responsible for contests.
“The biggest key is getting the people in place,” said Stevens. “The fair would not be possible without the help of volunteers. They’re the ones that make it fun for the kids.”
She also makes sure fair participants have access to information early and register in time for her to organize paperwork and schedules.
In recent years, Stevens has seen an almost continual overall growth in fair participation. During the last two years goat and clothing entries have doubled, and art entries have tripled.
4-H membership has also continued to grow, particularly its Latino segment. Around 350 4-H members participate in traditional programs like animals, cooking and sewing, and another 200 are active in Latino programs like Mexican dance and soccer.
“I want to expand Latino participation into the whole depth of the program,” said Stevens, who noted that a fellow extension agent works half-time solely with the Latino audience.
As the staff chair, Stevens manages the 4-H office, overseeing finances and personnel, as well as handling public relations. She’s a tenured Oregon State University extension agent, which means she’s on the college faculty and is the equivalent of an assistant professor.
“Our role is that of education,” said Stevens. “We just don’t have regular classrooms like you’d find at OSU. Our classes can be in grange halls or community buildings.”
Stevens grew up near Boise, Idaho, and was involved in the 4-H dairy program.
“Looking back, I realize that I enjoyed the social interaction,” said Stevens. “I liked the fairs and the camps.”
She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Idaho and her graduate degree from OSU. After teaching for a couple years she moved to Prineville in 1976 and worked half time in 4-H and as a home economics extension agent.
Nine years later Stevens moved to Hood River and continued her involvement with 4-H. As an extension agent, she holds educational classes about all aspects of family life, including food and nutrition, human development and parenting, and other topics.
“The biggest change in 4-H over the years has been the incorporation of cultural programs,” said Stevens. “In the future we want to continue our emphasis on leadership and community development, and expand our nontraditional programs like entomology and the natural and mechanical sciences.”