For Penn State alumni and lifelong friends MeeCee Baker, a 1982 agricultural education graduate, and Jeff Conrad, a 1983 graduate in agricultural business management, 4-H played a pivotal role in their lives. With the goal of opening doors for young people in the county where they grew up and inspiring others to support 4-H in their own communities, Baker and Conrad made a gift covering the membership fees for all youth who wanted to participate in 4-H in Juniata County this year.
Baker and Conrad grew up in Juniata County in central Pennsylvania and met through their participation in 4-H. They both credit their experiences in 4-H with charting the course of their lives, including helping to finance their education and exposing them to the wider world outside their rural community.
“Jeff and I realized how 4-H encouraged us to become leaders, influenced our careers, and got us started on a positive path in agriculture,” said Baker.
Conrad echoed her thoughts, saying, “I was the first in my family to go to college. That’s why 4-H is such a passion for me -- because it got me off the farm. When I look at my background, I see the importance of 4-H and a program that can be very helpful in assisting young people by giving them exposure to the larger world.”
Baker and Conrad both pursued careers involving agriculture. Baker, who started out as an agricultural education teacher, is the president and CEO of Versant Strategies, an agricultural government relations firm in Harrisburg. She continues to live in central Pennsylvania on the farm where she was raised. Conrad, who grew up on a dairy farm, has lived and worked in Boston for the last 30 years. After retiring from the Hancock Agricultural Investment Group, he started his own investment firm called AgIS Capital (Agricultural Investment Strategies), which manages capital for institutional investors by acquiring and managing large farms producing almonds, walnuts, pistachios, wine grapes, apples, and more.
When Baker and Conrad were growing up, there was not a membership fee to join 4-H like there is today. However, they both recognize the fee could be a barrier for youth who would otherwise want to participate in 4-H.
“Jeff and I realized we had such a boost in belonging to 4-H that we wanted to be able to give back so that anyone in Juniata County who wanted to participate would be able to free of charge,” said Baker. “We also didn’t want the leaders to have to worry about continuing to fundraise to help cover those costs.”
“I can’t say enough about how critical 4-H was for me and I imagine it continues to be for many kids,” said Conrad. “We really hope this will open the door to help more youth benefit from a program that benefited us so greatly.”
Baker and Conrad also hope their gift inspires others to consider doing something similar in their own communities. With 4-H programs in every county across the state, they both would be thrilled to see their gift replicated by others.
“Folks often think these types of gifts are out of their reach,” said Baker. “You don’t have to be of great means to be able to do these types of things. If there is a message behind all of this, it’s that little gifts are the ones that make the biggest difference. 4-H was a gift to us, and we want to pass that gift along.”
“The Pennsylvania 4-H program is dedicated to providing high-quality, positive youth development experiences to youth throughout the commonwealth,” noted Josh Rice, Penn State Extension assistant director for 4-H youth development programs.
“The gift from Dr. Baker and Mr. Conrad will help to provide learning and leadership opportunities to youth in Juniata County,” Rice said. “They were able to take the impact that 4-H had on their lives and pay it forward to the next generation of 4-Hers.”
Businesses or individuals interested in making a similar gift to support 4-H in their county can contact Lauren Steinberg, senior director of development in the College of Agricultural Sciences.
The Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences represents the foundation of Penn State and its land-grant mission to serve the public good. To fulfill that mission for a new era of rapid change and global connections, the University is pursuing "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a fast-paced campaign focused on the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. Through teaching, research, and extension, and because of generous alumni and friends, the College of Agricultural Sciences is able to offer scholarships to one in four students, create life-shaping opportunities, and make a difference in the world by fueling discovery, innovation, and entrepreneurship. To learn more about supporting the college, visit http://agsci.psu.edu/giving. Information about the campaign is available at greaterpennstate.psu.edu.