MILKS GROVE TOWNSHIP — Yvonne and William Behrends’ 4-H story began in Milks Grove Township — a township without a town, tucked in a remote corner of Iroquois County.
Despite never being 4-H members themselves, they gave 4-H a chance by enrolling their eldest child. In time, they would sign up all seven of their children for 4-H clubs in Iroquois County, and Yvonne would serve as a 4-H club leader for 15 years.
This year, to celebrate Yvonne, William and their family’s involvement in 4-H, the family was bestowed the Illinois 4-H Foundation’s 4-H Family Spirit Award, which recognizes an Illinois family "who has substantially benefited from and who continues to advocate for the Illinois 4-H program over multiple generations."
The Behrends family accepted the award on Aug. 14 during a special ceremony at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield.
Sharlene Finegan, one of Yvonne and William’s children and the person who organized the family’s nomination for the award, expressed the influence that 4-H had in their family over the years.
"We’re a big 4-H family — it’s had a lot of influence on all of us in a positive way," Finegan said. "By submitting this award, we were doing so to honor our parents, who had been 4-H supporters for over 50 years."
While growing up, the Behrends children’s summers revolved around 4-H, from completing projects to going to the fair as a family vacation. Everyone chipped in to help complete projects, deepening the family’s roots in the process.
Seventy-one years and five generations later, involvement in 4-H still fills the lives of the Behrends family — as at least one descendant of Yvonne and William has been enrolled in 4-H every year since 1947. Collectively, members of the Behrends family have experienced 545 4-H membership years, attended 95 years of 4-H camp, shown 153 projects at the state fair and completed 389 years volunteer service. Fourteen family members have served as club leaders, including Yvonne and William’s grandson and his wife, who restarted a club back in the cornfields of Milks Grove Township where it all began.
On a daily basis, Finegan sees the 4-H tradition continuing in the Behrends family.
"We still have a lot of youngsters involved in the program, and it’s going strong for the majority of them," Finegan said as she expressed her gratitude to her parents for signing up their seven children many years ago. "In 4-H, you learn so many things in a variety of ways. You learn skills that last a lifetime."