New awards program honors outstanding 4-H volunteers across Nebraska

children with sheep at a county fair
April 23, 2021

Lincoln, Neb. —Nebraska 4-H has selected 12 individuals, as well as one multigenerational family, as recipients of a new statewide awards program that honors outstanding contributions of 4-H volunteers.

The Nebraska 4-H Volunteer Recognition Awards program was developed in 2021 to honor adult and youth volunteers, as well as multi-generational families, who have provided meaningful contributions to Nebraska 4-H. One Outstanding Adult Volunteer Award winner was chosen for each of the state’s 11 Nebraska Extension Engagement zones. One statewide winner was selected in each of the youth volunteer and multi-generational family categories.

“All across the state, Nebraska 4-H volunteers do incredible work to provide opportunities for our youth,” said Jill Goedeken, 4-H Youth Development Extension educator. “These volunteers generously give their time, energy and creativity to help develop the next generation of leaders, and we are thrilled to be able to recognize their contributions.”

An in-person recognition ceremony will take place at the 2021 Nebraska State Fair.

Inaugural award winners are:

Outstanding youth volunteer: Brandon Mellick, Dixon County

Brandon Mellick

Brandon Mellick has taken several leadership roles in Dixon County over the past years. He was actively involved in the Ag Innovator program, teaching youth audiences about agriculture topics to more than 250 youth. He served as a 4-H Ambassador in Dixon County for two years. He was a member of the Dixon County 4-H First LEGO League team and assisted with promotional events to educate and recruit new members with robotics. In addition, he was also a member of the Dixon County 4-H Teen Leaders program. He is an example of an active 4-H member in the Nebraska 4-H program. 

Multigenerational award winner: Ron and Barb Suing family, Lancaster County

Ron and Barb Suing family

Ron and Barb Suing have been involved in nearly every aspect of 4-H in Lancaster County since Ron was in 4-H himself in the 1950s. Over the years, various family members have worked as superintendents, judges, behind-the-scenes volunteers and mentors to hundreds of youth. First generation: Ron and Barb Suing; second generation: Marlo Yakel and Nikki Casburn; third generation: Marlo’s children, Kylee Schirmer, Taylor Yakel and Ryan Yakel; and Nikki’s children: Andrew Casburn, Daniel Casburn and Thomas Casburn.

Outstanding adult volunteer awards (one for each of Nebraska’s 11 engagement zones)

Engagement Zone 1: Carrie Child, Sheridan County

Carrie Child

Carrie Child has served in almost every volunteer role possible. Over the years she has served as a board member, workshop volunteer, after-school teacher, club leader, fair event superintendent, and robotics coach. Through her continued support, the Sheridan County program has become stronger and more diverse, and she has had a positive impact on almost every aspect of Sheridan County 4-H.

Engagement Zone 2: Kathaleen Mead, Garfield County

Kathaleen Mead

Throughout her long career as a 4-H volunteer, Kathaleen has held many roles, beginning as an organizational leader when her own children, Paige and Kay, joined Garfield County 4-H. Eventually, she would also serve as project leader, state fair judge and financial supporter. She has been especially involved in the Garfield-Loup-Wheeler 4-H quilting program, which offers programming every week from the end of school until the start of county fair and has impacted generations of 4-H youth.

Engagement Zone 3: Sharla Willard, Lincoln County

Sharla Willard

Sharla Willard has been instrumental in many aspects of Lincoln County 4-H, including leading project areas, serving on the 4-H council and serving as a fair superintendent. When COVID-19 changed fair protocols in 2020, she helped with the check-in and placement of static exhibit items and worked to ensure that proper protocol was followed for the 4-H dog show. This past spring, she was an integral part of making the Lincoln County 4-H Council Garage Sale Fundraiser a success.

Engagement Zone 4: Kevin Oberg, Hitchcock County

Kevin Oberg

Kevin Oberg has been instrumental in keeping a successful 4-H shooting sports program in Hitchcock and Hayes County for the last 17 years. He began as a 4-H shooting sports leader in the archery and today helps with all shooting sport disciplines. For the past several years, Kevin has led the Hitchcock and Hayes team of shooting sports leaders in preparing for practices and contests, caring for shooting sports equipment, gathering donations for the program, and making sure the youth have a safe and fun experience.   

Engagement Zone 5: Kim Spence, Stanton County

Kim Spence

Kim Spence is a positive force in Stanton County 4-H. She has served as 4-H council member and president; county extension board member; program leader and much more. She serves as a bridge between the Stanton County 4-H program and the fair board. She has the ability to motivate both youth and adults, and she prioritizes making time for 4-H, even as a mother of five who works full time.

Engagement Zone 6: Beth Sonderup, Nance County

Beth Sonderup

Beth Sonderup is the club leader of the Trailblazers 4-H Club in Nance County, a club she started four years ago to encourage youth of all ages, especially the Clover Kids age group. The club has participated in several community service projects in its four years, including creating Valentine’s Day placemats for the food trays at Children’s Hospital; making goodie bags for patients at the Boone County Hospital; and playing bingo with residents of the Valley View Assisted Living Facility in Fullerton. She has also led many 4-H workshops focused on sewing, which is one of her passions.

Engagement Zone 7: Barb Mentink, Polk County

Barb Mentink

Barb Mentink has volunteered with the Polk County 4-H horse program for more than 30 years. During this time has served as superintendent, 4-H Council member, club leader and horse advancement level examiner. She pushes her many members to get the most out of their 4-H experience, not just through her club, but also by getting involved in district and state events. Barb is knowledgeable, provides great programing and most importantly, the kids have fun and enjoy being around her.  

Engagement Zone 8: Linda Bisanz, Burt County

Linda Bisanz

Linda Bisanz has been involved with the Flying Needles 4-H Club for over 26 years, in a wide variety of roles. She was the 4-H kitchen manager for many years, then became the homemade pie making coordinator. Each year for more than 20 years, her group of 4-H volunteers has made approximately 200 fruit pies to be sold in the 4-H kitchen during the fair.  She is a big advocate of the 4-H speech and presentation contest and is always among the first to volunteer for clothing judging day and during the fair. She even puts on heavy coveralls to help at a winter 4-H fund-raiser concession stand. For many years she has been a source of endless help who has made a difference.

Engagement zone 9: Rebecca Dunn, Douglas County

Rebecca Dunn

Rebecca Dunn has created a new 4-H club, engaged new 4-H families and worked with local 4-H staff to provide enriching, educational opportunities to club members. She has worked with the Ralston Public Schools district to have her education students lead as peer mentors in the Health Rocks 4-H Mentoring program. She also led the way forming a partnership with a Ralston elementary school where the 12 high school mentors would meet with their 30 mentees in grades 3-6. Rebecca is a stellar 4-H volunteer and has made a big impact on the families and future teachers.

Engagement zone 10: Heather Mohling, Adams County

Heather Mohling

Heather Mohling has been a 4-H leader of the Blue Valley Blazers 4-H Club for over 20 years, and a leader in the Adams County 4-H Horse program providing instruction in horse knowledge and hands-on care of horses, along with horse showmanship and riding. She has helped prepare youth throughout the county for State Horse Quiz Bowl as well as county, district and state horse shows. Heather has been instrumental in implementing the therapeutic riding program within the Blue Valley Blazers 4-H Club including organizing and providing horses, volunteers, equipment, training, and an unlimited amount of patience teaching and working with youth that may not otherwise have the opportunity to ride and bond with horses.

Engagement Zone 11: Renee Thakur, Cass County

Renee Thakur

Renee Thakur has been a dedicated volunteer in Cass County and the surrounding area for many years. She has helped school enrichment and 4-H workshops in Cass County and has assisted with sewing workshops in Johnson and in Pawnee counties. In recent years she has helped with First Lego League competitions in Otoe County.  She is enthusiastic, consistent and willing to help wherever needed.

More information on Nebraska’s 4-H program is available at https://4h.unl.edu