Sara PlattAnyone who questions if 4-H is still alive and well has only to look as far as Barnum’s Sara Platt.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Anyone who questions if 4-H is still alive and well has only to look as far as Barnum’s Sara Platt. Platt is one of the legions of adult volunteers, many of whom are second- or third-generation 4-Hers themselves, who work with 4-H clubs throughout the county, state and nation. As in the case of many volunteers, Platt’s own children are involved in 4-H, though she said plenty of “60-somethings” devote their time and experience to the organization as well.
One of the universal beliefs they all subscribe to is that 4-H is good for kids – a belief that has endured over the 100 years that 4-H has been in existence. The fact that Platt was recently honored by the Minnesota 4-H Adult Volunteer Association as its “Outstanding Volunteer of the Year,” the organization’s highest award, came as frosting on the cake for this busy, committed mother whose belief in the value of 4-H dates back to the time she was a girl....
Platt grew up on a dairy farm in the central Minnesota farming community of Long Prairie, the middle child of five sisters and one brother. Though she found the rural experience to be hard-working and wholesome, there were life lessons to be learned from it as well.
“It was a very good place to grow up,” she said. “My mother preferred to be outside helping my dad, driving the tractor for baling hay and chopping corn. My parents have always gotten along very well and helped each other, and the thing I learned most from them is the value of teamwork. Everyone in our family had something to do. We did housework, we baled hay, we drove the tractor – we never looked at it as if ‘This is a boy’s job’ or ‘That is a girl’s job.’”
Platt said rural life also taught her coping skills.
“Working on a dairy farm, there are always things that break, animals that get sick, and it seems like you’re always in need of rain....” she said.
Platt joined the Hearty Elks 4-H Club along with her brother and sisters, and her mother eventually became a 4-H leader as well. Platt and her siblings often brought their Holstein calves to the county fair.
“When I was in the second grade, I brought ‘Jean,’ a 6-month-old calf, to the fair,” she related. “She was not docile. I did not lead her around the arena – she led me! For our efforts, Jean and I won a red ribbon. My dad thought I should have won a blue ribbon, but when it was Jean’s turn to be judged she sat down and neither the judge nor I could convince her to stand up! She finally did after the judge shouted in her ear.”
After that, Platt said she was content to stick to other 4-H projects such as gardening, baking and sewing – activities she enjoys yet today.
“The love for animals and the country have stayed with me, too,” she admitted. “I remember our 4-H tours. We would go from farm to farm and everybody would show off their projects, their animals, their vegetable gardens or whatever.”
Following high school, Platt decided to try cosmetology school but eventually decided to switch gears and go to nursing school instead, graduating in 1993. She met her husband, Randy, after being introduced by his cousin, and they have now been married for 21 years.
When Sara graduated as a registered nurse, they were living on the Iron Range where Randy worked for Frontier Communications and Sara alternated weeks working in surgery at the Virginia Regional Medical Center and White Community Hospital in Aurora.
“The operating room is the best place to work,” she declared. “It’s where all the action is!”
During that time, the Platts had two daughters, Rachael, now 11, and Rylie, now 9.
When Randy was transferred to Duluth in 1995, the Platts moved to Saginaw, where they lived in a rural home on five acres.
“About that time, we started acquiring horses, and then it just kind of snowballed!” Sara admitted. “My father-in-law, who lives in Bemidji, bought our girls a miniature horse, and because of Little Black, we are now ‘horse people!’”
Randy had grown up on a farm as well and shared Sara’s love of rural life.
“He is a gifted network and technical engineer,” said Sara, “but his real love is to be on a tractor, turning over the soil or baling hay.”
Even after he moved away from Bemidji, Randy and his uncle maintained a family farmstead there. Randy wanted to bring his beef cattle to this area, however, so he and Sara started looking for land five years ago. A year and a half ago, they found a 240-acre farm in Atkinson that filled the bill to a T. The family moved into the house in August 2007.
“It needs a lot of work, which we have done,” she said, “but we still have lots to do. The land is beautiful and we are very grateful to be here.”
The first thing they did was put up a fence for their horses, and then they brought in some of the younger cows from the Bemidji farm so Randy could start his own herd of registered of Black Angus cattle. Sara started work at Community Memorial Hospital in March 1995 and has worked in surgery there for the past 14 years.
The Platts now have guinea hens, chickens, four cats, two Border Collies and four horses, in addition to the beef cattle.
And, like their families before them, the Platts have learned to run the farm as a team. Rylie helps feed the cows and Rachael takes care of the dogs and cats. Last week, the whole family vaccinated and tagged calves.
“This is done by convincing the calves it is a good idea to walk into a head chute,” explained Sara. “Surprisingly, they were willing to do this – I guess it’s a ‘monkey see, monkey do’ mentality. My job was to give the shots (two under the skin, and one in the muscle), Randy snapped on the ear tags, and the girls stood sentry at the gate with a clipboard and a bag of ear tags in hand, shouting out names and numbers that had been carefully written in permanent marker by a 9-year-old. I have no idea who is who since all the calves are solid black, but Randy and the girls are all in agreement about which one is which. In the end, Rylie realized she had more tags than calves, and the one named Lucy is now running around with a red tag that says Maggie # 8! Rylie was upset at first, but Randy told her next month when we give booster shots we would fix it.”
Another new experience Sara has had as a farmer’s wife is pulling out whatever piece of equipment Randy has gotten stuck with the tractor.
“I am convinced he does not mind getting stuck,” laughed Sara. “I think he enjoys this, but I told him he’s lucky to have me!”
Sara and the girls were taking riding lessons when their instructor, Debbie Zack, invited them to join the Esko Cloverleafs 4-H Club, where she was a member. Rachael and Rylie have been involved in 4-H for the past four years now and Sara said it has already expanded their horizons significantly.
“My daughters have gained wonderful experiences in 4-H,” said Sara. “4-H today is much more than what I experienced as a child growing up in the ’70s. 4-H’s emphasis is on youth development in leadership and personal growth. 4-H is not just for rural youth, either. In fact, most of the youth in 4-H today live in a town or city.”
She went on to outline some of 4-H’s outstanding opportunities in youth leadership, including officer positions, demonstrations, workshops, and Knowledge Bowls. The project areas have expanded as well, to topics such as photography, performing arts, metal arts, wildlife biology, veterinary science and citizenship.
“My girls have had some terrific opportunities, sharing their talents in music and theater by participating in the 4-H Share the Fun competition, presenting and modeling a garment that they each constructed during Carlton County’s Fashion Revue, presenting numerous projects to judges at the Carlton County Fair and giving demonstrations for the county fair during Demonstration Day,” Sara said.
Sara herself has become a co-leader for the Esko Cloverleaf 4-H Club along with Lisa Stracek and Dona Carlson.
“Our team approach works well with everyone’s busy lifestyle,” she explained. “ I have loved to sew since about the fourth grade. It is a lost art that I am willing to share with any youth who has an interest in learning to sew. We have had several sewing projects in our club and the kids, both boys and girls, really enjoy creating something unique they made themselves.”
Another activity the Platt girls have enjoyed is the 4-H-sponsored, week-long horse clinic held at the Proctor Fairgrounds each year and led by clinician Lloyd Anderson.
“This is a fantastic experience,” said Sara. “The girls have learned as much as their horses. Lloyd is a gifted instructor who is patient and kind to all the youth. At the end of the day, everyone feels good about what they have accomplished.”
Sara said that concept parallels the 4-H philosophy of helping young people feel positive and motivated about the things they do.
“That theme is what I learned at the Minnesota 4-H Adult Volunteer Association Convention held at the Radisson in Duluth in February,” said Sara. “They want us to encourage youth, to be very positive and enthusiastic. Youth thrive on positive attention.”
As a volunteer leader, Sara has helped put on the day-long Fashion Review, lead sewing workshops, and chaperone 4-Hers at the Lloyd Anderson Riding Clinic.
“Not only does Sara think about 4-H at meetings,” stated club member Mackenzie Carlson, 14, “but she also has time for 4-H at home. She makes tasty bars for our club’s meetings and encourages other kids to join 4-H. She has even helped me and other 4-Hers figure out a confusing sewing pattern. All in all, Sara Platt is a great role model who is willing to put in time, effort, and a cheerful spirit to help put smiles on frustrated faces and to make 4-H the best experience.”
Sara would argue, however, that her own small role is simply an offshoot of the valuable role that 4-H continues to play in the lives of young people.
“I’m not doing any more than any other parent volunteer,” she attested. “The kids nominated me for the volunteer award and felt I earned it, but all the other parents do just as much as I do.”
After being selected for the “Volunteer of the Year” award in Minnesota, she will now be competing nationally for the same honor, and if selected will represent the state in Washington, D.C.
For Sara, however, life’s rewards are not about awards and honors but rather, as the 4-H pledge states, “making the best better” and enjoying the life they have made for themselves.
“Basically, this is our life,” she stated simply. “We have a large family, we do a lot of things together and we really like it. I realize this is not most people’s American dream – but it’s ours.”