Little did I know when I took my kids to their first 4-H meeting 11 years ago how it would change our lives.
The leader walked in with a box of small pumpkins. He pulled a pumpkin out of the box and told a story. The pumpkin had a single bad spot on the back. “The pumpkin could spend its time focused on this bad spot and worrying about its flaws. If it does it misses the point that if you see the other side, you see a pumpkin that’s round and fun and makes people smile.” He had raised the pumpkins in his garden. Then he gave the kids a pumpkin to take home.
Over time, Dan, that 4-H Leader, became one of the closest friends of my family. He took my kids to heart like he did all the kids in his club, cheering their victories and encouraging their talents. When my son decided he wanted to learn to grow pumpkins as a 4-H project, Dan agreed to let him grow them in his pumpkin patch. He taught Nick how to start them from seed transplant them, and then care for them. Their pumpkin plants became an annual tradition. Each year, they tried different varieties. When the harvest was good, like the year they harvested a truckload, Nick shared pumpkins with all his friends. In lean years, they struggled to find one ready to show at the county and state fairs. Each year, they tried again. Several of Nick’s pumpkins won special merits at the State Fair.
Dan encouraged members of his 4-H Club to participate in speech and demonstration contests, both at the county and state levels. Often, when his club members competed at state speech and demonstration contests, Dan went to support them. In the 20 years Dan has been head leader of his 4-H Club, 5 members won State Fair Demonstration Contests and won trips to Washington, D.C. Yes, I’m biased – my kids were 2 of those 5. With his encouragement, my daughter won a spot as 1 of 2 Indiana delegates to the National 4-H Conference in Washington, D.C., and my son won a spot as 1 of 9 Indiana delegates to the National 4-H Congress in Atlanta. His vision broadened my children’s worlds.
Dan’s influence on our family extended beyond pumpkins. He recruited me to become a 4-H Leader and encouraged me to get more involved with our county’s 4-H Leaders and 4-H Council. When our county needed a new computer project superintendent, Dan encouraged me to take it on, and his mother (also a 4-H Leader) showed me how to do the job.
When my daughter broadened her 4-H experiences to include animals, Dan was there. During high school, she exhibited both chickens and llamas, and Dan was always willing to buy her animals at our fair’s premium auction.
As Nick got involved with robotics contests in our area, Dan encouraged me when I decided to start a county robotics project. That expanded into my starting a new club, and Dan again encouraged me to take the leap that became our 4-H Tech Club. Tech Club opened 4-H opportunities to a whole new audience, and Dan used his experiences to mentor me with my new club. I worked to replicate his standards for excellence and desire for diversity and inclusion. Dan had served 2 terms on the National 4-H Leadership Trust and shared their vision with me to help raise the standards in my own club.
Dan became the older brother I never had – the kind who could be completely trusted. He saw me at my worst but inspired me to be my best. I could count on Dan to give me his honest opinion in each situation, which sometimes meant we disagreed. He had no problem telling me no when he thought it was what I needed to hear.
My kids also knew Dan could be trusted – when Nick went through Confirmation, he chose Dan as his sponsor. At the time, Nick told me Dan would make a good sponsor because he lived his faith and always did the right thing. Dan was more than a 4-H Leader; he worked as a local prosecutor for the past 24 years, as the director of drug law enforcement in Vanderburgh County and then as the Chief Deputy Prosecutor of Warrick County.
Dan gave his time to multiple non-profits, including serving as the President of our diocesan St. Vincent de Paul Conference that works to help the poor. His legal expertise helped multiple nonprofits, including our 4-H program and multiple Catholic organizations. In my own community service leadership, Dan helped me whenever needed.
Dan is among that handful of trusted friends I have who are family. During our challenges the past 11 years, including keeping our business viable during the 2008 downturn, recovering from my heart attack, or helping me with legal situations, he was there when needed.
And now times change. The Indiana Prosecuting Attorney’s Council hired Dan as their drug resource prosecutor. He will be moving to Indianapolis to start his new job and a new chapter in his life. So he’s moving when we’re all decorating with pumpkins.
Nick displayed his final pumpkin at this year’s fair. He snagged one of my Sharpies and drew a big smiley face on it. I asked him why, and he said that smiley faces make people smile, and he wanted people to smile when they went through the vegetable exhibits.
Anyone who knows my son knows he shares his humor and always finds ways to make life more fun for those around him.
The take-away? When Dan brought that box of pumpkins to a meeting 11 years ago, he was doing with pumpkins what Johnny Appleseed once did. He planted seeds in the youth of his club, as well as countless other organizations. Those seeds have and will spring forth to bear fruit – good fruit – that already do and will continue to make the world a better place.