Summer Road Trip 2019: Four Generations of 4-H in District 3


On the twelfth stop of his road trip to visit all Extension districts in a single summer, Jeff talks with Sandi Pyle, a 50-year volunteer in 4-H, to talk about 4-H’s priceless experiences.

December 23, 2019

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Four Generations of 4-H in District 3 Transcript

Sandi Pyle received the 2019 MSU Extension Key Partner Award for her dedication to 4-H.

Jeff Dwyer: Known as Mama Sandi to hundreds of 4-H members and alumni around the state, Sandi Pyle has been a Michigan 4-H volunteer for 50 years. She has been a leader in three counties, served on numerous committees and councils, guided hundreds of youth in projects, and served in statewide roles that include program development, international 4-H exchange, and Kettunen Center development. Sandi is also a member of a four-generation Michigan 4-H family. MSU Extension as an organization couldn't reach youth across the state without amazing volunteer partners like Sandi and her family members. I'm Jeff Dwyer, director of Michigan State University Extension, and this is Partnerships and Peninsulas.

Intro: This is Partnerships and Peninsulas and just like the state of Michigan, this podcast is filled with stories of amazing people who are doing wonderful work from Marquette to Monroe. Sit back and discover everything you didn't know about Michigan State University Extension. Here's your host, Jeff Dwyer.

Jeff Dwyer: Sandi, thank you for joining me today.

Sandi Pyle: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

Jeff Dwyer: So Sandi, I'd like to start by first formally thanking you for your 50 years of dedication to 4-H, but also for the impact that you've had in Kalkaska, Antrim, and Grand Traverse County 4-H programs and across the state. Fifty years is a long time. How did you first get started in 4-H?

Sandi Pyle: Well, I had four daughters, and the oldest daughter wanted to ride horses, and the neighbor gal said, "Okay, I'll be the leader, and you can be in my club." And so I was the mom that did the dessert, and did the paperwork, and whatever needed to be done, and then I saw the opportunities that my daughter had, and it just grew from there. With each child, they got more and more opportunities. They've gotten to go to Washington, D.C. They've gotten to go to the National 4-H Center, Kettunen Center, MSU. I mean, who can beat that?

Jeff Dwyer: I love your enthusiasm and just a moment ago, I got to meet an international student that you're hosting. Tell me about your family's involvement in that program over the years.

Sandi Pyle: John Aylsworth was in charge of the international program back then, and the first one we got through 4-H was a girl from Costa Rica. And, what a sweetheart. And so then the next year, I was a coordinator for the kids coming from Costa Rica, so I got to go down and meet the kids in Costa Rica, their families, see the living conditions, and then place them with the families here in Michigan. And another great opportunity, the girl that we hosted 25 years ago brought 16 members of her family for Christmas this year, so we just have connections all over the world. We've had the little girl from Taiwan. She's 22. She's not little, but she's our 16th exchange, and 11 of those have been through 4-H.

Jeff Dwyer: Your involvement in so many things is spectacular. And meeting this young lady today and hearing you say that 16 members of a family of someone that you hosted 25 years ago, that's remarkable. And that speaks so much about you and your family. But it also sounds like 4-H has been a part of the fabric of your family in some interesting ways, so I want to ask you a question. A lot of times people think of 4-H as raising animals, or those that know about it maybe capital experience, or the opportunities you mentioned like going to Washington, D.C. But I think those that are close to 4-H know that it teaches a lot more than that. Could you talk about some of the things that you think your daughters benefited from, and what you've seen other youth benefit from that maybe aren't so obvious?

Sandi Pyle: Them being able to meet friends and have friends for so many years at Exploration Days, and you'd go back every year wanting to see the kids. And you go to a show down at MSU, and your daughter runs up and hugs three or four different people that you didn't even know she knew. Yay, I met them wherever they met them. But to me the most meaningful thing is I'm 80, and I'm raising a 16-year-old that we adopted who's a special-needs child, and boy, does this help her. The best part is what she can learn, the responsibilities, and the recognition that's so important to her, and having to do her own project. She's done it completely this year. Absolutely, completely. So where else would I have that opportunity for her to do that? I wouldn't.

Jeff Dwyer: Well, that's a marvelous example. And the phrase you just said, "Where else would I?" I think that's a lot of what I hear. It's a great privilege for me to be the director of MSU Extension, and a lot of what I hear when I talk to people involved in 4-H it is that 4-H provides opportunities for learning how to work in groups, for how to start and finish projects, leadership development. To say nothing about the other things that you've talked about in terms of opportunities to meet legislators in Washington, D.C. or in Lansing. Those are really big deals that youth don't always get in other parts of their life.

    So I want to switch gears here for a minute. I know you've worked with a lot of people over the years that I know and of course appreciate a great deal like Julie Chapin, for example. And you've worked with people like Julie in lots of different ways, but one of those has been a real dedication and investment of your time and resources to the Kettunen Center. Could you talk about the Kettunen Center for our listeners that may not know of it at all, and why it's so important?

Sandi Pyle: Oh, the Kettunen Center, that's just a gem. Lots of learning went on. The first time we ever went... my husband and I went... there were kids doing demonstrations. They were talking in front of people, and they were talking like they were really comfortable and sharing information, and I thought, "Oh, if I could do that, if I could just get up and do that, if my kids could just get up and do that." And so I really aimed on the kids being able to share their project, be able to talk about it. But my favorite part about Kettunen is I was on the committee for 2021. Twenty years ago, we talked about how we could improve Kettunen and make it more available to more people, and they built on. And all the changes that they made and just the whole process of going through that and meeting people from all over the state, and it was just, wow. Wow.

Jeff Dwyer: Well, I can tell you that many people credit the many great things that have happened at Kettunen over the years to your input and involvement as well, so thank you so much for that. And you may be interested to know that today and tomorrow we have a group at Kettunen Center talking about the next 10 or 20 years of the Kettunen Center, so it just continues, and it wouldn't be possible without people like you.

    So back in the 1990s, you were a member of the Kalkaska County 4-H Leaders Association and Kalkaska County 4-H Livestock Council. And during that time, among many other things, you advocated to add youth to both of those groups and a youth voice to the leadership of those groups.

Why do you believe that youth leadership is so important in 4-H? Important enough that you were willing to really stand up and say, "This is important." And what do you think the youth have learned by being in those leadership roles, and what do you think the adults have learned by giving over some of the leadership to youth?

Sandi Pyle: The kids grow by watching and being a part made them feel really important and made them think about their future. One of the little girls in my club -- quiet, little, shy, little girl couldn't talk -- wouldn't look at anybody. Came in. And I had a rabbit project. We traveled. We went to Ohio. We went to Michigan. We went to all kinds of rabbit shows. And today she is the 4-H program coordinator in Kalkaska, so I couldn't be prouder. And I believe kids are smart. I believe they have the ability to speak out for themselves, and they had a lot of input. My daughter actually ran our whole achievement program, which was really a big project. They got up there. They did all the talking. They did all the introductions. It was super for those young ladies. Super.

Jeff Dwyer: That's really fantastic. I'm sure you've had the experience too, and we're so grateful for your leadership on that topic, and mentoring, and everything. Sometimes getting the adults out of the room and getting the youth in the room, they can come to decisions that are really not just important, but well thought through and maybe without some of the baggage that adults sometimes bring to the table. Right?

Sandi Pyle: That's for sure.

Jeff Dwyer: So Sandi, I want our listeners to know too that what may not have been clear from what we've talked about so far is that you're four generations in 4-H. You've talked about your children, but tell me what your grandchildren and now your great-grandchildren are now doing in 4-H.

Sandi Pyle: Well, I was not a 4-H member, but my husband was. Then I had four daughters. They did everything. The first three did horses. The fourth girl, she said, "I can't ride horses, but I want to have llamas. I want to have chickens. I want to have pigs." She had every animal. So that was really fun. And then we adopted two girls, and now we have nine grandchildren, and they are all in the program and nine great-grandchildren, and they are all in the program. And even some of my foster kids are in the program, so it's just a family, growth, together.

Jeff Dwyer: And you and I were walking through the fair here today, and several of your children and grandchildren are helping with the auction and many other things as well. So Sandi, I end up talking a lot about, people are often surprised that we have over 200,000 youth in 4-H in the state of Michigan. And certainly many who know 4-H are aware that we employ a lot of people like the Kalkaska 4-H program coordinator, but the truth is that 4-H doesn't happen without volunteers. And as you and I sit here today, we have about 16,000 adult volunteers who are a part of the 4-H program and make it possible. So with all of your experience and the richness that 4-H has brought to your family and all of that, what advice would you give to someone who might consider volunteering for Michigan 4-H?

Sandi Pyle: Do it. Just jump in, ask questions, offer to help, meet with the kids. They're the meat of the project, so you've got to get in with the kids, and what you'll learn in years coming forward, what you'll gain, it's priceless. It's just priceless.

Jeff Dwyer: Well, thank you for that. This is Partnerships and Peninsulas. My name is Jeff Dwyer, and I have the privilege of being the director of Michigan State University Extension. Thank you, Sandi, very much for joining me today.

Sandi Pyle: Oh, I appreciate it. Thank you.