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Armstrong speaks his mind as 4-H advocate
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
WEST POINT – More than 60 years have passed since Clay County 4-H agent Elizabeth Miller chose young Norman Armstrong to lead Rally Day, and his participation in the organization that helps young people develop their potential is not yet over.
Armstrong grew up on a Clay County farm during the Great Depression, a time when people had to be self sufficient if they were to eat, have clothes and maintain a house. Armstrong learned how to handle just about any task, but public speaking was a situation he had not anticipated. Miller saw that he had the presence and poise to preside over 4-H Rally Day.
“My knees were knocking like you wouldn’t believe, but Mrs. Miller kept telling me I could do it,” Armstrong said. “I had written what I wanted to say, but I soon learned you can’t read everything and make a good speech.”
From that experience, Armstrong soon developed a mastery of public speaking, which allowed him to go to 4-H events, such as Club Congress and Roundup, and speak effectively in front of people. That talent has made him an icon in West Point and a key part of the 4-H program as a volunteer leader.
“Norman is the pillar of the 4-H program in Clay County,” said state 4-H youth development specialist Harvey Gordon, who coordinates the program’s volunteer leadership activities. “His generosity ranks among the best in the state and his continuing commitment to youth development has become a valuable legacy on which to build future successes.”
In Armstrong’s heyday, Clay County 4-H members often did well in many team events and individual contests. The clubs took advantage of having Mississippi State University and established livestock operations, such as Bryan Foods and Swift, in their backyard. The clubs would invite these representatives to critique their demonstrations.
Armstrong was a member of Clay County’s 4-H quality milk control team demonstration. They enlisted Swift’s help in putting on practice demonstrations in Clay, Lowndes, Oktibbeha and Monroe counties. Clay County had never won this event in state competition, but a week before the contest was to take place at MSU, Armstrong developed appendicitis and had an emergency operation.
The attending physician told Armstrong he could not participate, and he promptly protested. The doctor relented when they agreed that Armstrong would be taped up and would avoid walking up flights of stairs. Armstrong did not bother to tell the doctor that the contest was to be held on the third floor of Montgomery Hall.
“I took the steps one at a time,” Armstrong said. “We won the contest and received $250 for a trip to Chicago for the national contest.”
The experiences and trips provided through 4-H taught Armstrong to understand and appreciate cultural differences when traveling to other states and foreign countries.
“I know that 4-H made me much more tolerant of others, and it instilled in me the necessity to become an adult volunteer leader once my time as a club member was over,” he said.
Today, Armstrong enjoys working with youth as a project leader, which means he is able to share his talents as an expert in public speaking and leadership development. His stories about his adventures are legend, too.
“Norman is a great resource when I need a leader for a workshop or a demonstration,” said Clay County 4-H agent Fran Brock. “He gives his time and his talents, and I feel I can always call on him because he makes himself available to our 4-H program.”