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Volunteer leader shows passion for life in 4-H
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
CORINTH – As a child, Alma Hopper was too shy even to say “please pass the peas” at the family dinner table, but a lifelong journey in 4-H helped her find her voice as an advocate for youth.
Hopper is an adult volunteer leader in Alcorn County’s 4-H program. She serves as a resource person for all of the county’s 4-H clubs. Many club members and leaders speak of her enthusiasm and dedication to the 4-H creed of “making the best better.”
Willing to voice what needs to be said, Hopper has come a long way from her roots in Windsor, a tiny town in south-central Kentucky. She walked a mile and back – sometimes barefoot – from the family farm to a one-room schoolhouse. At home, she watered and fed more than 110 chickens and gathered the eggs they laid every day. She also kept busy keeping her younger brothers out of the water well, the outhouse and the nearby creek, but Hopper made time to watch her mother create clothes, curtains and slip covers on a manual treadle sewing machine.
This fascination became a teachable moment for mother and daughter.
“When I was 8, my mom handed me a piece of material and told me to go sew something,” Hopper said. “I knew exactly what to do because I had watched her for such a long time.”
Then, a second opportunity came Hopper’s way. At age 9, she joined a 4-H club based in nearby Liberty and discovered the 4-H Sewing Project. And there was an additional benefit to 4-H membership.
The 4-H program helps youth develop their potential through projects, activities and competitive events that require oral presentations. This helps many club members master the art of public speaking.
“4-H became my outlet, and as time went on, the Lord allowed 4-H to open my mouth,” Hopper said. “I’ve never been quiet since.”
When Hopper was 14, her father sold the farm and the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. There she met someone who would set her on the path to be a 4-H volunteer leader.
“I kept noticing this nice young man who rode my school bus, and he said he noticed me the first day,” Hopper said. “William Hopper and I became friends, then we became romantically involved, and at 22, I married him.”
William Hopper wanted to be an Extension agent, and he accepted a position in Campbellsville, Ky. There was a need for 4-H volunteer leaders, and Hopper soon found herself as the club leader for five young girls participating in the sewing project.
“I once was the biggest perfectionist in the world, but I soon learned that if you work with children, you work according to their capability level and their need to learn by doing something themselves,” Hopper said.
As the couple began their own family and accepted job opportunities in other states, Hopper remained a 4-H volunteer leader. In 1976, the family moved to Mississippi when William Hopper accepted a job as Tippah County agent. Hopper established herself as a volunteer there. She showed no signs of slowing down after the couple moved to Alcorn County in 1994.
“She’s always been there when we need her, even at the last minute,” said Alcorn County 4-H agent Tammy Parker. “In life, people don’t always get a pat on the back for that, but she volunteers gladly because she loves 4-H so much.”
People who have worked with Hopper know of her dedication to 4-H, but not many people outside of the 4-H family may not know the lengths she goes to in promoting the organization.
The testament to her tenacity is the Centennial Quilt displayed at the Mississippi 4-H Learning Center and Pete Frierson Museum in Jackson. Hopper was the chief architect in getting the project going. State 4-H youth development specialist and volunteer coordinator Harvey Gordon identified Hopper as his go-to person.
“Harvey remarked, ‘It will take about a year, won’t it?’ I said, ‘Harvey, it will take considerably longer than that,’ and we both laughed,” Hopper said.
Gordon remains one of Hopper’s advocates.
“Alma is the 4-H volunteer who bleeds green,” Gordon said. “She was a pioneer in steering the Mississippi Volunteer Leaders Association in the right direction and she demonstrated her belief in the Extension mission of making a difference in youth development. She was the person I needed to have for that project.”
Hopper spearheaded Mississippi’s contribution to a large wall hanging made for the Southern Region 4-H Volunteer Leaders Forum. She also was instrumental in establishing the tradition of holding a silent auction to raise scholarship money for the volunteer leaders association.
The quilt, which took four years to complete, was ready in time for the museum’s dedication in 2008. This accomplishment has served as Hopper’s own teachable moment when dealing with young people who may get discouraged when they encounter life’s obstacles.
“Never give up on the ideas you have,” Hopper said. “I am fortunate that 4-H taught me to keep going.”