When Mary Bucher joined her local 4-H club in 1932, it's unlikely she considered she would still be involved in the organization nearly seven decades later.
But she is.
Mrs. Bucher, a Whitehouse resident, has been honored by the Ohio 4-H in Columbus for completing 40 years as a local club leader.
“It's pretty cool to see someone with it this long, especially when her kids are grown,” says Julie Holliker of Waterville.
Mrs. Holliker is an adviser with the Swan Creek Cygnets, the club Mrs. Bucher founded in 1961. Mrs. Holliker was a club member under Mrs. Bucher as a teenager, and her daughter, Brandi, 10, is a current member.
This is not unusual; Mrs. Bucher says a number of her former members have had children in her club.
She first became involved in 4-H at age 10, when she joined the Neapolis Suceeders, in western Lucas County. At the time she was living a few miles from Neapolis, on the 160-acre family horse and crops farm in eastern Fulton County. Children weren't as mobile then, and 4-H was a good way to meet other children, says Mrs. Bucher, who attended the former one-room Heckerman Elementary School at Road 2 and Road B.
“A lot of it was social,” she says, “because where I lived, there weren't any kids around.”
Then as now, 4-H involved working on year-long projects members show at their county fairs, hoping to earn enough merit to reach the state fair in Columbus. In Mrs. Bucher's day, female members were relegated to cooking and sewing projects, and the boys were involved in livestock.
Later, Mrs. Bucher became an Army nurse in the Pacific Theater. She was on Tinian Island when the Enola Gay left there on its mission to drop the first atomic bomb on Japan. Upon her return, she moved to Toledo and worked at St. Vincent Hospital before becoming an occupational nurse for the former National Supply. In 1948, she married Orville Bucher, who farmed and raised livestock on 27 acres on Eber Road.
The Buchers built a house next to Swan Creek on Stitt Road, where they have lived more than 50 years. They've watched nearby farms turn into housing developments, water lines finally reach their property this year, and four girls and a boy grow.
It was when their eldest child, Kathy, turned 10 that Mrs. Bucher decided to start her own 4-H club. “I enjoyed it so much when I was younger, I wanted her to have the same experience,” she says.
There were 10 girls that first year, in 1961. Mrs. Bucher remembers everything because she has kept meticulous scrapbooks spanning the four decades she has directed the Cygnets.
Each of her four daughters belonged to the club. When her youngest child, Ed, turned 10, Mr. Bucher started a 4-H club for boys that lasted 10 years.
The Cygnets became co-ed long ago. Projects have become considerably more diverse than during Mrs. Bucher's time, with choices ranging from furniture refurbishing to creative arts, fishing, and even trapping. These days, about half the 4-H livestock projects involve female participants.
The projects help instill real-life knowledge - another plus about 4-H, Mrs. Bucher says.
This year's Cygnets number 31. Only one, Brandie Holliker, lives on a farm. Mrs. Bucher says the perception that 4-H members are farmers is not accurate: “4-H has changed. It's no longer a rural thing. There are city clubs.”
Each club has its own style and rules. For the Cygnets, Mrs. Bucher requires all members to finish their project to be eligible for the year-end awards dinner, which she hosts. “I didn't want to have kids start something and not finish,” she says. “They should learn what they say they're going to do they should follow through.”
According to Mrs. Holliker, Mrs. Bucher practices what she preaches. “She's always there for the kids, just trying to make every project a good experience. She just has so much energy,” she says.
Despite turning 79 this month, Mrs. Bucher says she won't be quitting any time soon. “If I didn't do it, what would I do?” she asks. “As long as I'm able, I'll continue. I'd hate to miss out on anything.”