A blonde woman with glasses, wearing a yellow shirt and a motley scarf, stands smiling on a sidewalk in front of trees beside a sign marking “UF University IFAS Extension State Headquarters Florida 4-H Youth Development.”

Joy Cantrell Jordan, 4-H alumna

Where are they now?

Q&A* with Leah Barbour  • Photo by Camila Guillen, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Former Mississippi State University Extension Service 4-H’er Joy Cantrell Jordan became a member of the National 4-H Hall of Fame in October 2017. Growing up in Monroe County in the 1960s, the professor emerita got her start in Mississippi 4-H. In 1976, she became the 4-H Youth Development agent in Yazoo County. She went on, in 1988, to teach youth development with Extension at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Q: What 4-H memory stands out to you, and why?

My agent was Lois Varnell. She worked for Extension for over 40 years but passed away 2 years ago. She wanted us to excel, compete, and do the best we could.

I liked a challenge, so I started learning about horticulture and plant science. I got into horticulture judging and demonstrations. I was the first girl to enter an agronomy contest. The specialist took the entry cards, but he didn’t know what to think about a girl entering the contest. Later that day, he had to come find me because he had a tie for first place. He had a runoff between a girl and a Delta boy, and I knew crabgrass and the boy didn’t.

I took on the challenge to do the projects only boys did. Ms. Lois had high standards, and that was one of the lessons I learned in 4-H: learn by doing, and finish what you start. Ms. Lois was such an influence in my life that I wanted to follow in her footsteps.

Q: What do you wish people knew about 4-H?

I wish they realized the positive influence 4-H has on young people and adults. For me, that’s something that everyone should know—that there’s something there for every child. 4-H can be that.

Q: Fill in the blanks:

4-H taught me to . . . never say never. Not to quit. To be a lifelong learner.

4-H taught me to stop . . . limiting myself from doing things I didn’t think I could do. Just because you’ve never done something before doesn’t mean you can’t do it. 4-H also taught me not to be shy or timid. When I started 4-H in 1963, at that time, girls just weren’t allowed to do certain things, but 4-H let me be whatever I wanted to be.

Because of 4-H . . . I have had a wonderful career and a lifestyle I thoroughly enjoy. I have traveled the U.S., the world, and the Air Force bases in Europe. I’ve worked in Africa and the Caribbean. 4-H has given me a wealth of knowledge and a wealth of friendships that I cannot replace. It is a huge family, and we’re all in it together.

If I hadn’t been in 4-H . . . then I wouldn’t have done any of that. I wouldn’t have gone to college, and I would have never traveled beyond my local community. I decided that I wanted to do 4-H because I worked with every subject. Now, I’ve been a 4-H’er all my life, and it’s a credit to 4-H in Mississippi. It gave me my beginning, and it’s just as viable today as it was then. It changes to meet the needs of kids.

* Interview answers have been edited for space and clarity

MSU Extension Service
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