4-H volunteer ‘bleeds green’

In the 1960s, American science fiction was introduced to a half-human/half-alien who had green blood.

With all due respect to Star Trek’s Mr. Spock and his kin from Vulcan, humans have been bleeding green for over 100 years in making the best better through learning by doing in 4-H.

Perhaps one of the best examples of this bleed green lifestyle has been Donna Maskus, who when she isn’t serving as the county clerk of Ellis County, Kansas, has given back over the decades as an active 4-H volunteer.

In 2012, Maskus received a K-State Research and Extension Salute to Excellence Recognition Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer Award for Kansas 4-H Youth Development. She was honored at that year’s Emerald Circle Banquet.

“I got to go to the National 4-H Congress and really drank that in,” Maskus said.

A former president of the Kansas 4-H Volunteer Association, Maskus has also served as one of the co-chairs of the North Central 4-H Volunteer Forum, a meeting for volunteers from a six-state region.

“It was a fun adventure of everyone who believes in 4-H.” Maskus said

Through her involvement as a 4-H member, Maskus served in many leadership roles, said friend and Cottonwood Extension District 4-H agent Susan Schlichting. “As the 4-H slogan suggests, Donna Maskus truly ‘bleeds green’ with her passion for 4-H,” Schlichting said. “Even after receiving awards for lifetime service Donna continues to give back to 4-H and her community in so many ways.”

It all started with Maskus growing up on a Pawnee County, Kansas, dairy farm, the oldest of four girls—and growing up in 4-H.

“We all milked, and chored, and did all kinds of things in 4-H, like showing cattle. I was blessed with two great parents who guided us in good activities and we had fun,” Maskus said. “I did a lot in showing dairy cattle and cooking and sewing projects. My sewing projects were good enough that I got to model at the Kansas State fair three years in a row.”

After attending Dodge City Community College, she matriculated at Fort Hays State University, where she discovered 4-H volunteerism while helping at a county 4-H Discovery Day.

“That was my start. Since I started working in the clerk’s office nearly 40 years ago, I’ve been a 4-H volunteer and have served on every position on the county Extension council.”

Over the years, Maskus’ involvement with 4-H, especially in foods competitions, gave her a lifelong ambition to gain something she wanted to obtain from an early age.

“From the youngest days, I always wanted to win the Governor’s Cookie Jar prize at the State Fair. When I’d go to fair, I’d look at that jar with the big ribbon, and just admire it. When I got older, I worked for years to come up with a theme and the right kind of cookies that could be a winner,” Maskus said.

“I worked at it for six years once I qualified before I perfected it to the point where I won with a theme about 4-H.”

Accepting her jar was Gov. Bill Graves.

“It was especially nice to give it to him, since I had known him when he was secretary of state and I worked with him in the clerk’s office on election stuff.”

Maskus’s secret to victory in this featured foods competition at the fair?

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Fresh ingredients.

“Fresh, quality ingredients and taking your time. That’s what it takes,” said Maskus, who judged this year’s Governor’s Cookie Jar competition.

“I’ve really enjoyed becoming a food judge at the state fair,” Maskus said. “It’s just a continuance of all the other things I’ve done, and it’s just fun to see all the amazing projects people do.”

Yet, the most fun part of her 4-H volunteer life is as a project leader to the Gemini Juniors 4-H Club. Maskus said it’s helping at the club level that brings her the most joy.

“We have 22 members this year in the club,” Maskus said. “That’s a big club. Most of them live in Hays and so they have a wide variety of interests. When I was a kid, we lived on the farm, transportation wasn’t as easy, and so we were limited in our activities. We had lots of things in 4-H that allowed us to grow in knowledge and experience.

“In our club today, we have younger members in leadership positions, and it’s my thing to tell the older kids who were shut out that this is their opportunity to try other things in 4-H, too, and that they can be helpers to those younger officers with things like record keeping.”

Schlichting said this inclusive attitude is typical Donna Maskus.

“Donna is always looking for ways to involve more youth in the 4-H program.  She is a person who truly believes in 4-H and what it can do for positive youth development.  She works tirelessly, and she’s been this way for years.”

Maskus said, “It’s just a joy to be a part of this in sharing with others.”

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or [email protected].