Long-time Henry County 4-H supporter Virginia Nelson of Geneseo recently was named to the Illinois 4-H Hall of Fame.

Long-time Henry County 4-H supporter Virginia Nelson of Geneseo recently was named to the Illinois 4-H Hall of Fame.

“I was speechless when they called,” said Nelson. “I am extremely honored to think that they thought I’d done so much for 4-H and Henry County.”

Nelson spent six years as a member of the Atkinson Handy Helpers 4-H Club. “I’d known about 4-H all my life, but the first time I went to a meeting was when I was invited by a girl I?went to school with.”

Nelson returned to 4-H when her oldest daughter was old enough to join a club.

She served as a co-leader for the then-Phenix?Silver Sailors 4-H Club. “The real success of that club should be credited to my co-leader, Mrs.?Harold (Lucille)?Jones,” said Nelson.

“The original Phenix club had disbanded, and I knew there were a lot of girls in the area interested in 4-H, so I called her and said, ‘How would you like to co-lead a 4-H club?’” explained Nelson.

An all-girls club, the Phenix Silver?Sailors eventually became the Phenix Maplettes before becoming the co-ed Maple Leafs 4-H Club.

Today, the Maple Leafs 4-H Club is one of only two remaining Geneseo 4-H clubs. “I’m proud of the leaders who’ve kept the club going,” said Nelson.

She served as club leader from 1965 to 1990. “I told my family I was going to retire after 25 years. I?don’t know if they believed me,”?she said.

Nelson returned to 4-H five years later as a member of the Henry County 4-H Foundation Board. She continues to serve on that board today.

As a club leader, Nelson said she enjoyed watching 9-year old girls grow into 18-year old women.

“The girls had to do the projects themselves, and they learned so much. They learned how to
speak in front of groups and how to give demonstrations,” she said.

“Many of my members would later tell me, ‘I hated filling out 4-H records, but they helped me when I had to fill out high school scholarships,’” said?Nelson.

Over the years, the 4-H organization has changed. “The projects aren’t so much about food and clothing any more. There’s more technology projects,” she said. “Before, it was nothing to have 400 or 500 girls being judged in clothing. There was more competition then.”

Despite the changes, Nelson said she still believes “4-H is one of the best organizations in the world.”

“It teaches boys and girls so many different things,” she said.

Illinois 4-H Hall of Fame members were honored at the 2009 Illinois State Fair. As an inductee in the Hall of Fame, Nelson received a medallion from the Illinois 4-H Foundation.

She was honored in October at the county level, and received a clock on behalf of Henry County 4-H.