The Davis County Fair is the highlight of the summer for Davis Countyans young and old, and no one enjoys the fair more than Deb Van Horn.
Van Horn has been a 4-H leader for 35 years and never seems to tire of helping kids prepare for the Davis County and Iowa State Fairs.
Deb began her service as a 4-H leader in Wapello County in 1984 when her son, Chris Jackson, was old enough to join a 4-H Club. She married Dan Van Horn in 1988 and began her “career” as a 4-H leader in Davis County in 1989.
“Thirty-five years as a leader is a long time,” Deb admits.
But she loves seeing kids get excited about their exhibits and what they learn in 4-H. “It’s fun to go on hayrides or to workshops with the kids,” she said. “They get to know each other and have fun together besides learning.”
When Deb came to Davis County, she became a leader of the Odyssey 4-H Club with Janice Batterson. She later led the club with Kim and Kevin Orman, and Aaron and Leslie Shirley have now joined Van Horn as leaders of the 16-member co-ed club.
Their club members have a wide variety of animal projects: rabbits, goats, bottle calves; market and breeding beef; sheep and pigs. Some are preparing food and sewing exhibits; others are working on small engines, welding, woodworking, and restoration projects.
“We have girls in the fashion review and the $15 Challenge clothing project — purchasing an outfit for $15 or less,” she said.
Van Horn is proud of the educational presentations Odyssey Club members make on topics ranging from ear-tagging hogs to nitrogen branding cattle to welding. Several siblings taught the club how to do an Irish jig and even gave a presentation on how to play drums.
Deb is also appreciative of the leadership and citizenship opportunities that are offered to club members through the state and national organizations.
Throughout the years, Deb has seen many changes in 4-H. “When I was in 4-H,” she said, “we couldn’t take more than seven things to the fair. During the year when food and nutrition was emphasized, we could take five items in that category and one in the other areas — sewing and home improvement.”
Deb is pleased that 4-H offerings have expanded to computer-based projects, digital storytelling, photography, natural resources, science, technology, and so much more. “Kids can do a project in almost anything and fit it into a category to take to the fair,” she said.
Deb’s 4-H responsibilities go beyond leading the Odyssey Club. She helps County Youth Coordinator Courtney Hale line up judges for the fair each year: four for consumer science; two for photography; one for visual arts; two for ag and natural resources; and two for science and technology.
She serves as the 4-H Building Superintendent at the fair — a duty she has performed since 2000. “That means working with judges on judging day and getting helpers to assist them. At the end of the day State Fair entries are chosen and must be recorded,” she said.
Deb also arranges for 4-H club members to serve as sentinels, or greeters, for the 4-H building throughout the fair. She supervises the cleaning of the 4-H building in preparation for the fair, gets the State Fair booth ready, and works in the office of the building during the fair. “I’m just kind of around there all the time,” she said.
4-H is really a family affair for the Van Horn family. Deb and Danny’s grandchildren are in 4-H, and Deb says Dan helps more now because the grandkids all have animals. “They have calves that need to be walked and he gets the job of bringing them in on weigh-in day,” she said.
“Chris and Jennifer (his wife) aren’t leaders, but if the kids or I need help, they are right there for me,” Deb said.
She is also thankful for the support of the community when it comes to 4-H programs. “I’ve done a lot of work, yes, but I’ve had a lot of help from the community to get ready for the fair. The year I was the county youth coordinator, Amy Mosbey and Hannah Johnson did a lot of work to make the computer entries and took care of a lot of the weigh-ins for the shows.
“I have had fantastic parent support from the whole county and I want to thank them for all the support they have given me during my work with 4-H,” she said.
Van Horn was inducted into the Iowa 4-H Hall of Fame in 2011 in recognition of her volunteer service to Davis County’s 4-H program.