On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we lost an amazing woman. Jan was my mentor, and I was lucky to also call her my friend. She was a devoted 4-H leader for 30 years and she loved her 4-H kids as though they were her own children and grandchildren. She loved animals too, and never said “no” to a stray or creature in need of a good home. She was caring, resourceful, smart, and giving. 4-H gatherings and the fair will never be quite the same without her there.
Instead of dwelling on how sad and unfair her loss feels, I’m going to share a few memories of her that make me smile:
We bought our farm in 2015. That autumn, we went to the fair with the intention of asking around about buying goats. I’d been wanting Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats and now that we had the space, I was very eager to start our herd. We were walking through the goat barn on the fairgrounds late that evening, and Jan was milking out her animals. I stopped to ask her about buying goats, and she (seeing that I had children) thrust a notepad and pencil into my hands and told me to write down my contact information. I went home and didn’t think much about the encounter, until a week or two later when I got a phone call. It was Jan, telling me the date and time for the annual 4-H club Halloween party and that I should bring a dish to pass and the kids could dress up and play games. I hung up the phone and just kind of stood there a second, blinking. She hadn’t asked if we wanted to come. She just sort of… told me we were coming. Being an introvert, if she had asked, I may have made excuses to not attend. I am so very thankful she didn’t give me the option to not go, because that was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.
The photo above was taken at the fair in 2018. Our Nigerian doe, Maizey, had just won Best in Show as a first freshener. Jan was the first to come give me a hug and congratulate me. It’s not a flattering picture of me, but I love the photo because I felt like that was the moment that I won Jan’s approval in a “Ya done good, kid” sort of moment. Of course, it was a feather in her cap as well, because Maizey’s sire was a buck bred by Jan. So we shared that prize!
The photo above is my absolute favorite of Jan, and it’s how I’ll always think of her. She loved her 4-H kids. She loved all the kids in the community. If they showed any interest in animals, she had all the time in the world to share her knowledge and experience with them. Our first year in 4-H I took the whole week off work and spent all day at the barn. During the week, the local school would bring the kids in on a field trip. Jan would have the kids line up and one-by-one, she’d sit with them like this and let each and every one of them try their hand at milking a goat. I watched her and listened to the kids squeal with delight. What an experience!
I remember thinking to myself, in Jan’s 30+ years as a 4-H leader, how many thousands of children has she given that unique experience to?! How many of them in later years told their children about that one time they went on a field trip and got to milk a goat? This is her legacy: giving children happy memories of her and her animals. I hope that will live on forever and ever.