My Indiana: 4-H Shapes A Life

Published: August 10, 2012

Becky Skillman is a native of Bedford and has served as Indiana’s first female lieutenant governor since 2005.

  • This article originally appeared in the Indianapolis Star. A long-time supporter and friend of the Indiana 4‑H Foundation and 4‑H Youth Development programs, it is published here with permission from Mrs. Skillman.

Rural Indiana has always been home for me. It’s a beautiful place no matter what the season, but summer has always held something special. My childhood was set between cornfields and soybean rows, playing against the backdrop of glowing lightning bugs and humming cicadas.

From spring through summer, my whole world revolved around one thing — my 4‑H club. Every summer my sister and I were busy preparing our projects for the county fair and preparing for the annual 4‑H camp at Shakamak State Park. I have so many happy memories of that time; from the 50-foot high dive at Shakamak Lake to the laughable way I always managed to dress like an adult even when I was trying to be a kid. I have an old group picture that shows me standing out like a sore thumb, with my handbag and matching shoes in a sea of shorts and sneakers.

For me, 4‑H was the incubator for my leadership skills. As simple as it might look, that picture always reminds me that I was testing the waters even at an early age. Eventually, I took on leadership roles in my club and became a junior leader.

I was a loyal member of my 4‑H club, and our mother was just as loyal in her role as our club leader. I was always jealous of my friends during summer 4‑H camp. While they were enjoying a week of freedom away from home, my mother came with me. My mother’s watchful eye was ever-present, but looking back I know her involvement meant the world to me. She supported us with her time and her talent, as all good 4‑H leaders do.

Over the course of nine years, 4‑H helped shape my outlook and hone the skills I use to this day. From learning to make professional presentations, giving public speeches and, yes, even learning how to set and eat off of a formal place setting for dinner — each project and program led me farther down the road of leadership. 4‑H continues to be a great leadership program for young people. The programs and projects have evolved over the years with advances in technology, but the principles are timeless.

I learned lessons of hard work, discipline and self-control, compassion, generosity and thoughtfulness. My goal was always to do my very best, and the county fair was the focus of all my efforts. I proudly displayed my projects and hoped for the best as the judges passed by. I remember the satisfaction of a hard-earned blue ribbon, and the hope and anticipation as I waited to see if I’d be lucky enough to take my work to Indianapolis. There’s nothing more exciting for a small-town gal than looking forward to a big-city adventure.

Like most Hoosiers, I’ve been coming to the great Indiana State Fair all my life. We made that trip whether we had winning 4‑H projects or not, and part of me still feels that childlike excitement when I hear the music of the midway, smell the once-a-year food and see the crowds milling around the exhibits.

Over the past seven years it’s become an even more important part of my summer. Now as I approach my last fair as lieutenant governor, I have even greater pride in what the State Fair means for our state.

When I think about my beloved Indiana, these memories are the first to surface. There aren’t enough columns in this paper to chronicle every great experience I’ve had living and serving in Indiana. The sum total of them fills me with deep gratitude for the people and places that helped me grow up in the best and most beautiful state in the union.

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