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Four generations of 4-H’ers span the century

An older man, a woman, and a teenage boy around a green tractor.
Zach Moody, Gene Brunt, and Christie Moody, members of a McCool family involved in 4-H for more than 100 years

Mississippi State University Extension celebrated its centennial in 2014. The organization has touched countless lives in the last 100 years, including four generations of 4-H’ers in one family.

The Brunt and Moody families of McCool, Mississippi, trace their involvement back to patriarch Elmer Brunt. In the early 1910s, Elmer participated in a corn club overseen by W. H. “Corn Club” Smith, who organized the first such group in the state in 1907. The United States Department of Agriculture paid Smith $1 per year for his work in the corn club, making it the first federally sponsored youth program. The USDA’s support established a three-way partnership of county, state, and federal governments, and that partnership is the reason Mississippi claims to be the birthplace of 4-H.

In 1912, Elmer Brunt won first place in the 4th Congressional district competition for the most corn grown on one acre of land. His yield earned the young farmer a train trip from Attala County to Washington, D.C., and to the National Corn Exposition School for Prize Winners in Columbia, South Carolina, in January 1913.

Elmer’s son, Gene Brunt, said his father’s trip would not have been possible without the club.

“My daddy’s parents wouldn’t have had the money to send him to Washington, D.C., in those days, but he got to go through the USDA,” said Brunt, 72.

The pristine certificates Elmer won a century ago were rolled up and stored in a family trunk for decades. Today they are planned for display at the Mississippi 4-H Learning Center and Pete Frierson 4-H Museum.

Gene said he followed in his father’s footsteps and began running the family cattle farm after his 1960 graduation from Ethel High School. His 4-H involvement during his school years helped him learn the ropes. He still looks to Extension agents for help. “They are always there to answer questions about our farming operation,” he said.

Gene said showing livestock has changed quite a bit since his days in the ring. He has witnessed the changes alongside his grandson, Zach Moody, who showed Hereford bulls and heifers for a decade.

“Back then, the only thing we had to prepare to show the cows was a brush,” Gene joked. “We didn’t have cattle trailers, so I remember all the kids and their animals rode on a flat-bed truck to a show in Scott County.”

Although livestock show preparation has changed over the years, one thing remains the same: the relationships.

“4-H is just so family oriented, and we have wonderful friends we met through 4-H,” said Christie Moody, Gene’s daughter and Zach’s mother.

“4-H brings out leadership skills in the students, and you meet good people. I think Zach’s biggest takeaways from his years in the organization are the friendships. And he was glad he had his granddaddy,” she added, with tears in her eyes.

Christie serves as volunteer leader for the Attala County livestock program, and she has seen the way her local Extension office and volunteers work to provide opportunities for youth in her county.

“Students have a lot of opportunities in 4-H. Whether they are very outgoing or quiet, I think there is something in 4-H that anybody can do,” she explained. “With individual events and group projects, it offers the ability to learn leadership roles or allow children who don’t want to lead the chance to still participate. No matter what the child’s abilities or personality, there is something they can take from 4-H.”

Christie began volunteering when Zach was 7 and continues to serve, although he has moved on to MSU. She says Zach’s 4-H experience led him to Mississippi State and helped him earn one of only 25 annual spots in the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine’s Early Entry Program.

Zach, a sophomore animal and dairy science major, hopes to run a large animal veterinary practice. He said his years as a 4-H’er made a big difference in his life.

“4-H taught me responsibility and introduced me to a lot of friends along the way,” he said. “Most importantly, I got a lot of bonding time with my grandfather and my family.”

Attala County 4-H agent Becky Hamilton said the family has been a godsend for her.

“It’s awesome to have a family who has thrived in 4-H programs for four generations. They are always there to help, from serving on the advisory council to helping in the ring,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said she loves watching 4-H bring families closer, especially in the livestock program, as multiple generations work together.

For the Brunts and the Moodys, 4-H is truly a tie that binds their family together. As the MSU Extension Service celebrates its first century, stories like this one are a testament to the ways Extension programs continue to extend knowledge and change lives.

By Meaghan Gordon

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Extension Matters Volume 1 Number 1.