Through the years, she has been a 4-H member, leader, parent, judge and committee member. This Sunday, she will join other members of the 4-H family when she is inducted into the 4-H Hall of Fame.
4-H has been a part of Huxley resident Mary deBaca’s life since her childhood. Back then, being involved in 4-H offered country kids an opportunity to spend time together during the summer. They learned all about sewing, food preparation and showing livestock, among other things.
"As a kid, I could hardly wait to join 4-H," deBaca said. "It was just the thing for country kids to do."
A 4-H round-up trip to Purdue University during her freshman year in high school was what influenced deBaca to not only study home economics in college, but also to attend the university to which the trip was held.
While interning with the Knox County Extension Office one summer during college, a responsibility deBaca had was to establish two urban 4-H clubs. Prior to that, only country kids had been involved in the organization.
After graduating from college, she accepted a position as a home economics teacher in Indiana, while volunteering her time as a 4-H leader. She said it was typical for home economics teachers to serve as leaders because they had access to ovens and sewing machines that could be used to teach young 4-H members.
She also participated in an international 4-H exchange program in Luxembourg in 1957. She said the purpose of the trip was to help establish the extension program through interacting with extension staff, as well as interacting with the families she and other exchange program participants lived with.
When her three children became old enough to join 4-H, they followed in their parent’s footsteps, quickly becoming active in the organization as members of the Palestine Powerettes and Palestine Peppy Pushers clubs. Even after the deBaca children aged out of the 4-H program, deBaca still remained a leader and project judge. She said the reason why she chose to continue devoting her time to the program was because there were still young people and she enjoys working with youth.
"It’s one of the neatest organizations that’s based on youth development outside of school," deBaca said. "Every kid has a chance to excel and be great."
One of her countless memories from her involvement in the program over the years was watching a young 4-H member work her way up to the cherry pie presentation at the Indiana State Fair. DeBaca was a young leader at the time and had helped the young girl prepare for the presentation.
"I had a great deal of leader happiness," deBaca said of when the girl was awarded her state fair ribbon. "She built confidence, practiced and conveyed all that to the audience."
As a project judge for fairs at the county and state levels, deBaca enjoyed hearing the 4-H’ers talk about their projects.
Her most recent involvement in the 4-H program is serving on the Story County 4-H History Committee. The committee works to preserve and promote 4-H. DeBaca, along with other committee members, created the DVD, "Bridge from Past to Future 4-H," that shows how 4-H has evolved over the years. DeBaca said though the 4-H program changes as society changes, "the value of working with youth stays the same."
"Kids learn by doing more than when they’re just being told facts," deBaca said.
DeBaca does not know what her life would be like had it not been for 4-H. It influenced her career path and the way she taught not only her students, but the 4-H members as well. Through 4-H, she learned that kids learn by doing better than when just being told facts.
"I have a hard time separating what life would be like without 4-H because I believe in those same values," deBaca said of the 4-H program’s values.
The 4-H Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held Sunday, Aug. 18, at 3:30 p.m. in the 4-H Exhibits Building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. DeBaca said she is excited her three children and their families will be present at the ceremony.