By T.L. Petersen
Observer Staff Writer
ISLAND CITY Add a cool October afternoon, about a dozen children from teen-age years and down, a few adults, a grandma, several sheep, a couple alpacas, a couple dogs and a goat and it must be a 4-H meeting.
For almost 30 years, the mix of sheep and kids has been a good indicator that 4-H is happening at the Dale and Carol Mattson home, the first place on the right going from Cove Avenue to Buchanan Lane.
Back in the early to mid-1970s, Carol and Dales three children got involved in showing sheep in the Lively Livestock 4-H Club.
With a neighborhood of friends and small ranches, it was only a short time before the Lively Livestock Club split, creating the Livestock Unlimited Club with the Mattson children as the cornerstone, and Dale and Carol as leaders.
Livestock Unlimited is gone now, but not the connection of the Mattsons and 4-H. Now the group of young people hanging out on the Mattson porch or in the sheep pens call themselves the New Generation Club.
It seems, somehow, appropriate.
The club is still mostly Mattsons, but a third generation of them, and still rounded out by cousins and neighbors and extended family, as Carol Mattson calls the swirling group of youngsters.
And while the elder Mattsons are still involved with the club, it is, technically, her daughters, Cristie Heddon and Cindy Bonney, who are now the clubs adult leaders. But dont tell Grandma that.
The Mattson family is just one of several 4-H families in Union County who, through the years, introduce the youth development program to succeeding generations.
A new year is starting in 4-H, with clubs focusing on sewing, computers, sheep, horses, dogs, pygmy goats, public speaking, leadership and a wealth of other subjects.
La Grandes pygmy goat club is brand new. Elgins livestock club is decades old.
And the New Generation is expecting a bit of expansion this year, with more junior members not quite making it to fourth grade yet learning the fundamentals of caring for and showing sheep. And the club will include the Mattsons two new alpacas, a goat and probably a pig added to the menagerie.
For Carol Mattson, a rewarding piece of her 4-H history is the fun of sitting back and listening to them tell the kids things. Ha ha! Its pay back! Mattson chuckles as she listens and watches her daughters, Cristi and Cindy, help the club members hang on to sheep, keep records and learn how to evaluate breeding and market animals.
The New Generation is proving itself not so different from the past clubs that have been centered at the Mattson home.
Derek Hamilton, with children of his own, smiles faintly as he watches the antics in the sheep pen as ewes, children, adults and a goat try to move sheep into a show-like line.
Me and my brothers all grew up with (the Mattsons). If we werent at home, we were here.
Carol Mattson didnt bring a personal history with 4-H to that first 1970s era club, but she did bring a youth involvement history from her own childhood.
I was in the very first FFA girls group, she says, remembering that in 1959 the girls were not legitimate and couldnt compete in competitions such as the county fair or Eastern Oregon Livestock Show, but were allowed to carry the buckets and shovel the animal stalls.
Through the years, todays leaders of the New Generation think that in some ways, showing 4-H sheep has gotten easier.
Showing, says Christi, seems more on a timed schedule now, she says. She and her sisters also agree that the fine art of grooming a sheep for showmanship isnt what it used to be. The sisters are quick to share horror stories of the quick trip to the bottom of the ribbon pile for any child who walked in the show ring with a sheep with dirty sheep armpits.
And there have been a few other changes, for the better, points out Carol Mattson. The judges now ask the young showmen questions about sheep or their other livestock. Mattson thinks thats an improvement.
Through the decades, though, one facet of 4-H hasnt changed much, and doesnt seem to gain much favor.
The adults all promote this area, but generations of 4-H members frown at the mention.
Record-keeping is a year-round part of 4-H, especially critical for those members raising livestock. There are purchase records, feeding records, maintenance records, vaccination records, breeding records everything is documented for 4-H animals.
Horse club members have to have their records completed before any trips to the state fair, and other 4-Hers have their record books judged.
I dont like keeping the records, admits Kira Mattson, 13, a New Generation member. Its hard to keep track.
Records are hard, agrees Rachelle Winterton, 12, who has been in the club for two years. Rachelle says it is just hard to remember to keep the records up to date, even as her clubmates say she keeps the best records of them all.
I dont think Im doing a very good job, Winterton objects.
But something keeps the club members coming back, year after year, generation after generation.
Devin Winterton, 13, shrugs and admits what keeps him coming back: I like to make money, he says, thinking back to the county fair livestock auction, which is supported by businesses and donors interested in the 4-H program.
The thing I like the most is the training, even through at first its really, really hard, adds Rachelle Winterton.
After what seems like just minutes, its time to go home. Moms and dads stop by to pick club members up, and all the animals go back into the pens.
And the reminders are called out. Keep up on your records! Are your vaccinations done yet?
Another year in 4-H begins.
The 4-H program is organizing for the 2001-2002 club year. Adult leaders and co-leaders are needed in every area of the program.
Those interested in learning more about 4-H are urged to call the Union County Extension Office, 963-1010.