Mystery Place: Linn 4-H Club holds a place in Wisconsin history

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Ginny Hall | August 29, 2014

On Feb. 22, 1912, May Hatch organized the Junior Country Club. These were daughters of the members of the Linn Neighborly Club. The girls wanted to learn how to cook and can.  

In April 1912, Prof. R. Moore of the College of Agriculture at the University of  Wisconsin-Madison sent some Silver King seed corn to be distributed among boys and girls in the county to see which one would grow the best corn. This would be on the premium list at the county fair.  Florence Lasch, from Zenda School, received first prize.  

The next year, Hatch's son Lester received first prize and received a scholarship to the short course in agronomy in Madison. He stayed with T.L. Bewick, who had just been hired to work with boys and girls programs. Bewick told Lester that if he could get a group together, he would come down and meet with them.  

In March 1913, the Lakeview Farmer's Club was organized at Traver School. In the fall of 1914 the club held its first fair. The prize for the Silver King corn exhibit was a trip to the International Stock Show in Chicago. The prize was given by Thomas Cox of the Zenda Lumber Company. The winner once again was Lester Hatch. He also had shown some of the ears at the county fair. Prof. J. Moore purchased the 10 ears of corn at $1 each.

This same year, the boys and girls in the area were invited to the meeting with Bewick. Four boys and three girls came to the meeting held in May Hatch's house.  These seven members decided to organize and become the first 4-H club in Wisconsin. The organization date is Oct. 30, 1914. As far as can be determined, those seven members were: Helen Hatch (Robinson), Estel Bingham (Caswell), Earl Massey, Lester Hatch, Gene Massey, Maria Ledger and Reinhold Smith.  May Hatch was their first general leader. She received honorary recognition at one of the 1943 Farm and Home Week banquets held around the state. The recognition reads:

“The University of Wisconsin recognizing the eminent services of Mrs. May Hatch, who has developed social values in rural life; who organized the first 4-H club in Wisconsin; and who is highly and widely esteemed for her work with rural youth, presents this testimonial on the recommendation of the faculty of the College of     Agriculture and with the approval of the regents of the university.” Over the years Mrs. Hatch received state and national recognition for her work.

May came to this area as a young girl and spent summers working at the Lake Geneva Country Club. She had been working for a Chicago newspaper and spent her vacations here. She met and married Hobart Hatch her second summer. They had five children. She was one of the charter members of the Linn Neighborly Club and the Linn Farmers Club. She took over the operation of their 160-acre farm when her husband died. She served as the town of Linn treasurer for 22 years and 11 years in her later life as the stewardess of the Lake Geneva Country Club.

May found time in her busy life to organize and lead the Linn 4-H Club.  

Hatch's father, John Grimm, brought the famous Grimm alfalfa seed from England.  It is still one of the top alfalfas grown in the United States.

The list of those seven charter members and other early members of the club varies in three different sources. The names include: Lester, Dorothy and Helen Hatch; Earl, Frank and Eugene Massey; Lawrence and Donald York; Florence Lasch; Josephine Mergener; Chuck Gavin; Maria Ledger; Mae Batchelet and Jack Rowbotham.   

Their club was the first to have an exhibit at the state fair. In 1916 and 1917 they had the champion agriculture exhibit and received a prize of $100 each year.

In 1918 the club officially changed its name to Linn 4-H. Their motto was “Whatever we do, we try to do a little better than anyone has ever done before.”

Seymour Hatch, son of May and Hobart,  donated the land on which the Wisconsin historical sign is located.
Ginny Hall, a historian from Delavan, is author of the “Walking around ...” and “Meandering ... ” books, which highlight the history of Walworth County communities.

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