For 50 of Dana Miller’s 60 years on this Earth, she has been involved in 4-H.
First, she was a 10-year member of the Dudleytown Redbirds 4-H Club.
Now, she’s in her 40th year as a leader of that club.
Over the years for the Jackson County Fair, she also has volunteered to help judge 4-H foods projects at Brownstown Elementary School and worked in the 4-H building and the Jackson County Pork Producers food stand.
All of this is done on a volunteer basis, and the Brownstown woman is fine with not getting paid. She’s all about making 4-H as great of an experience for the kids as it was for her.
“My role is if they need help, I will help them with anything they need help with,” Miller said. “If they need answers to something and I can’t find it, I will find it for them. It’s just to be there to help if they need it. I’ve always loved the kids. I love being with the kids.”
On Friday, Miller will be among 12 4-H volunteers with 20 or more years of service honored during the 4-H awards program at 3 p.m. at the pavilion at the fairgrounds in Brownstown.
Recently, she reflected on her start in 4-H.
“My mom was in 4-H, so all of us kids were in 4-H,” Miller said. “I have three siblings. I have two brothers and a sister. My brothers didn’t quite do 10 years because they got in sports, but my sister and I both did 10 years, and her daughter is now in my club, as well. I’m on my second generation of kids.”
Her projects included photography, foods, clothing and home environment. She never did livestock because her family didn’t live on a farm.
“I married a farmer, and he showed pigs,” Miller said, referring to her husband, Mark. “He did 4-H, and his dad (LeRoy Miller) was a 50-year leader and just died in May.”
Miller’s club leaders were Marlis Kilgas, Barbara Hildebrand and Sandy Waskom. Hildebrand and Elsie Kiewitt started the club more than 60 years ago for girls since they both had daughters. Dudleytown also had a 4-H club for boys at the time.
“We do have one boy this year. It has usually always been girls,” Miller said.
Through her own 4-H experience, Miller said she benefited in several ways.
“I made a lot of friends,” she said. “I learned responsibility because you had to get your projects done at a certain time, and I was in Junior Leaders, as well, and you helped the younger kids, so then you had the responsibility of teaching the younger kids. I think it helps you in life.”
After graduating from Seymour High School in 1980, she went to Indiana State University for a year and a half before returning home. She spent time working at a grocery store and then sold insurance before her husband wanted her to stay home to raise their daughters, Amber and Kimmi.
Once she was back in Jackson County, one of the leaders of the Dudleytown Redbirds was stepping down because her daughter was done with 4-H. Waskom called Miller and asked if she was interested in filling that role.
“I knew when I was done with 4-H, I didn’t want to be done. I knew that when I came back after college, I wanted to have some role in 4-H,” she said. “I didn’t know what it would be, but when Sandy called me and said, ‘Hey, Dana,’ I said, ‘Sure. There’s my role. That’s what I’m going to do.’ I loved it, and that was my way of keeping involved with the kids and the fair.”
Over the years, Julie Peters and Kim Schneider have helped lead the club, and now, Miller’s daughter, Amber Smith, is a leader.
The club currently has 34 members and meets 10 times a year.
“Roll call, singing, business, recreation, devotions, demonstrations, we do the whole spiel,” Miller said of club meetings.
During the fair on the last week of July, club members have a variety of projects on display in the 4-H building and show livestock.
“I have a lot of them that have animals. This year, I think I have somebody showing every animal out here,” Miller said. “I have three or four that are in clothing. I have one girl that takes 28 projects.”
Miller said she tries to attend as many of the club members’ shows as possible during the fair.
“Our club has always been very successful,” she said. “We have a lot of girls that get champions, grand champions, reserve grand champions in the (4-H) building and with their animals. It makes me very proud to be their 4-H leader, that we have helped them accomplish that. It couldn’t go without a good set of parents. The parents of these girls are great.”
Miller’s daughters were both in the Dudleytown Redbirds, and she said it was a lot of fun to watch them go through the 4-H program.
Even though their 4-H careers are over, Miller has continued to stay involved.
“The kids,” she said. “I’ll be ready to quit and one of (the parents) will say, ‘No, you can’t because my daughter is going to be in it.’ Now, my niece is in, and two of the girls (Emma and Jillian Tormoehlen), they are not actually my granddaughters, but I’m Grandma. As far as they are concerned, I’m one of their grandmas, so I have two ‘granddaughters,’ and my stepgranddaughter was in the club but not now.”
When asked how much longer she wants to help with 4-H, Miller said she hasn’t decided yet.
She encourages youth and adults to get involved if they aren’t already.
“It’s a great organization,” she said. “There’s always room for more volunteers, and we love to have the kids because they learn a lot. They learn how to be responsible for their projects and how to make and do different things. It’s just a wonderful program.”