WASHINGTON, D.C. – A piece of homemade apple pie rests on Steve Fisher’s plate at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson. Fisher has the tough job of judging the foods contest, which is something he has done for the past several years. It’s not only the scrumptious pies, cakes, cookies and other goodies that keep Fisher coming back, but more importantly, it’s seeing the people of Kansas he has met during his 32-year career in Kansas 4-H and K-State Research and Extension.
For his dedication to 4-H, Fisher, informally known as “Mr. 4-H” of Kansas, will be recognized Oct. 11 at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Md., as a 2013 National 4-H Hall of Fame winner. Winners each year are selected through a nomination process. The selection committee looked at each nominee’s work in citizenship, leadership, career accomplishments and character to determine the winners.
Fisher said finding out he was selected for the hall of fame was a very emotional experience.
“4-H has been my life,” he said. “I was humbled and pleased because 4-H had meant so much to me personally and career-wise. I’m so thankful to continue the legacy of those passionate 4-H youth professionals who have paved the way before me.”
Fisher’s career as a state specialist wasn’t his first experience with the 4-H program. He said he was a scrawny kid who didn’t have the strength or size to play sports in school. In 1960, at the age of 11, he found 4-H to be his outlet—something in which he could be involved. He and his two younger brothers raised pigs. They showed the pigs locally and at the Kansas State Fair, and also made a business out of it. The feed store in Meade County kept an account for Fisher Brothers Hogs.
4-H stayed with Fisher through college when he attended Kansas State University and pursued a degree in animal science. During his undergraduate tenure, he was president of Collegiate 4-H. At one Collegiate 4-H meeting, he met his future wife, Karla.
After completing his bachelor’s degree in 1971, Fisher immediately began his professional career in extension as an agriculture agent in Rawlins and Ness counties. In 1976, he returned to K-State to complete a master’s degree in adult education, and one year later accepted his dream job as a state 4-H specialist. In that role, focused in agriculture programming, he was responsible for 57 agriculture and related mechanical science 4-H projects with more than 40,000 members across Kansas. As Fisher and his family developed roots in Manhattan, he and Karla helped to start a 4-H club in Riley County for their three daughters.
“I think because I’d been a 4-H member, 4-H club leader, as well as a foods project leader and 4-H parent, agents and adult volunteers knew I’d been in their shoes,” Fisher said. “I think I had a lot of credibility with county agents, campus leaders and state subject specialists who looked at me for being real and recognizing what’s going to work in Kansas.”
Trisha Cash, Kansas 4-H Foundation associate director for fund development and special events, has worked with Fisher on numerous projects. In the nomination letter, she explained that he can work with people of all ages and solicits the right ones to help in various areas.
“Steve’s greatest gift and talent he demonstrated throughout his career was the ability to listen and gather professionals, volunteers and youth to discuss controversial issues to move the (4-H) program forward,” Cash said. “He was a genius for bringing the right people together and actually knew more Kansans by first name than all the other 4-H specialists combined.”
4-H project development committees continued to evolve in Kansas thanks to Fisher’s encouragement of adult volunteers to become more active in program planning for educational activities. The work by Fisher and these committees led to the development of The Horse Panorama and growth of The Dog Conference that still reach more than 200 participants annually, and more than 60,000 people in the past 30 years.
Some of Fisher’s other accomplishments during his career in Kansas 4-H include his service on the North Central Region Curriculum Task Force that contributed to the National 4-H Cooperative Curriculum. This curriculum, which now involves all U.S. states, strengthened research-based learning opportunities.
Developing and implementing a comprehensive recognition and award plan for Kansas, based on the National 4-H Recognition Model, was a goal Fisher watched come to fruition. He helped bring national attention to Kansas 4-H between 1984 and 1992, when 96 national project winners from Kansas received $96,000 in scholarships, where previously Kansas 4-H members were seldom recognized. Fisher said that before the national project awards ended, a total of 165 Kansas 4-Hers received $178,650 in scholarships through the national project awards.
The 4-H motto, “To make the best better,” has always resonated with Fisher, who said this national recognition helped make the best better in Kansas. Young people would see other top 4-H members succeed with a project in their communities and win national awards for their efforts.
“I think it elevated the project work in Kansas and challenged 4-H members to do more in leadership and community service,” Fisher said.
Fisher was also integral in recognizing Kansas 4-Hers at the 4-H Emerald Circle Banquet, a formal dinner to honor the state project and 4-H scholarship winners. 2013 will mark the 30th year of the Kansas 4-H Emerald Circle Banquet where more than 1,000 Kansas youth have been honored as state project winners and 1,650 Kansas youth have earned 4-H scholarships.
Although he retired in 2003, Fisher still volunteers to help Kansas 4-H, including serving on the planning team for the Emerald Circle Banquet and working closely with Cash and others from the Kansas 4-H Foundation to prepare a formal event and invite 4-H winners, their parents, county agents, donors and other friends of Kansas 4-H.
“Emerald Circle is kind of like an ‘Oscars’ for Kansas 4-H,” Fisher said. “Our goal is to make every person there feel special.”
Retirement hasn’t kept Fisher from continuing foods judging and boys fashion revue judging at the Kansas State Fair. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the state fair, and because of Fisher’s involvement over the years—from showing pigs, to serving as coordinator for Family and Consumer Sciences events, to serving as a judge—he said he’s been to 50 consecutive state fairs.
Fisher said he’s thrilled to have his first grandchild starting his 4-H career, making him the 4th generation of Kansas 4-Hers in Fisher’s family.
Fisher is also involved in his Manhattan community as an elder in his church, singer in the Little Apple Barbershop Chorus, and on various boards and councils for Kansas State University. He also works with youth on mission trips to Mexico, Haiti and Guinea.
In 2002, the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents, National 4-H Council and 4-H National Headquarters partnered to create the National 4-H Hall of Fame to recognize 4-H volunteers, extension professionals, staff employees, donors and others who made a significant impact on 4-H at the local, state or national level. Each land-grant institution can submit one nomination annually, and the three national partners can submit up to three nominations. Fisher was nominated by the K-State Research and Extension Department of 4-H Youth Development.