Instead of exchanging traditional gifts this Christmas, four generations of the extended Spooner family of eastern Washington and Idaho chose to support 4-H programs that make a meaningful impact in their lives and local communities.
Richard and Charlene Spooner, both 91, of Clarkston, along with their daughters Linda Bailey of St. John, Wash., and Lisa Nilsson of Genesee, Idaho, gave gifts of funding to the Asotin County 4-H Endowment, Inspired by the Spooner Family. This perpetual endowment was started by their families in 2015 to benefit Asotin County 4-H programs that develop and encourage youth, especially those in underserved communities.
“Exchanging gifts is fun, but it’s more meaningful to give something from your heart,” said Charlene Spooner, who originated the idea this year to help young people in the county that’s been her home for eight decades. Her two daughters immediately agreed, and soon younger generations of the family were giving to the fund, including Bailey’s oldest son, Heath, his wife Tish, and each of their five children.
“4-H has been a broad, long-running experience for our whole family,” said Bailey, a retired WSU development officer who helped establish the fund with her parents and her late aunt, Shirley Dimke, all longtime 4-H and Asotin County Fair participants. Four generations of their extended family have taken part in 4-H clubs and the fair, held every spring in Asotin, Wash.
“We were all in 4-H from the time we were old enough to join,” said Bailey, who grew up taking part in equestrian projects. “Our aunts were leaders in our clubs.”
Dimke, Richard’s sister, founded the Saddleliters 4-H Horse Club for boys and girls in 1965. Another aunt, Frances Roberts, assisted the Tally-Ho 4-H Club and inspired many children to try projects in horses and guinea pigs, arts and crafts, taxidermy, and other fields.
For many years, Richard helped organize events as a member of the Asotin County Fair Board, notably as president from 1993 to 1996. He and Charlene were recognized as grand marshals of the 70th Annual Asotin County Fair parade in 2011. It was always a privilege to be involved, Charlene recalled.
While Nilsson, as Charlene and Richard’s youngest daughter, missed out on much of the experience, she made sure her three daughters, Chelsy, Shantel, and Britnee, had the chance to take part. The confidence and skills that they gained from involvement in 4-H craft, equestrian, and livestock projects, as well as civics activities, helped her daughters in their lives and education.
“4-H is a wonderful opportunity for kids,” Nilsson said. “The responsibility that comes from starting and completing a project, taking care of an animal, and public speaking and presentation helps you become a successful citizen. It was a huge benefit for them.”
Statewide, more than 55,000 young people are part of 4-H, which is offered in Washington through WSU Extension. Serving the communities of Asotin, Anatone, Clarkston, and Cloverland, Asotin County 4-H encompasses more than 360 youth and adult participants and nearly 20 youth clubs exploring dozens of interests, from horses, pets, and livestock to robotics, art, and apparel.
Nationally, 4-H youth are twice as likely to take part in STEM activities, twice as likely to make healthy choices, and four times as likely as non-4-H peers to give back to their communities. Girls in 4-H are three times as likely to take part in science programs.
“We started the endowment to support all the good that 4-H does for kids,” Bailey said. “We want to give them worthy and valuable experiences and help 4-H stay relevant for everyone.”
In 2023, Spooner family endowment funds assisted several clubs with county fair and livestock projects. One group purchased materials for a storage shed to maintain boots, tack, feed, and other essentials, and used remaining funds to pay for veterinary care for youth-raised animals. Other clubs were selected to use funds for dog training and equestrian facility rentals.
“We want to be able to help more kids that need it,” Spooner said. Clubs are encouraged to come forward with projects for consideration.
“4-H is a wonderful program that makes good kids,” Spooner added. “Anything we can do to create positivity in our communities is worth putting money into. It feels more like Christmas.”
To support the Asotin County 4-H Endowment, Inspired by the Spooner Family, visit the WSU giving site.
To learn more about joining Asotin 4-H, visit the organization’s website.