Carol Schurman

Carol Schurman spent 40 years at the Penn State Cooperative Extension. Standing is Stacie Hritz, who took over for Schurman.

Exiting the offices of Penn State Cooperative Extension Service was one thing.

For Carol Schurman, that was the days-long task of boxing up 40 years worth of stuff accumulated as extension’s 4-H Educator for Indiana County.

She called it a career and formally retired from cooperative extension this summer.

But exiting the lives of the kids that came up through the 4-H youth development program over the decades? Not happening.

The Indiana County Fair has become something of a time for measuring Schurman’s impact on the independent 4-H program.

4-H is tightly partnered with the school-based Future Farmers of America (FFA) in filling the livestock barns and display buildings at the fairgrounds with the fruits of the students’ efforts of the past year.

Schurman — to the surprise of few, really — has segued from the county chief to a volunteer alongside other adult leaders in the county’s myriad 4-H clubs, so she hasn’t been a fixture at the county fairgrounds this week. Her successor, Stacie Hritz, formally took over 4-H education duties July 1 with a similar passion and a personal vision for the program’s future.

Yet the foundation Schurman developed the past four decades, going up to three generations deep in some 4-H member families, is evident at nearly every turn where fairgoers see livestock or home projects in display, competition and celebration at the Indiana County Fair.

In the livestock barns Tuesday, Amanda Kanouff, of Marion Center, said she followed her mom’s steps as a 4-H student and stayed on as an adult leader when her children joined.

That’s more than 20 years of Schurman influence.

“She always pushed us to go beyond the county and seek other opportunities beyond the fair as a 4-Her,” Kanouff said. “I was so inspired by her as a kid, and as a teenager more so than at first … so inspired that I came to work for her as a summer assistant for a couple of years. Then I came back to be her secretary the past three years.”

Jen Bourdess, of Home, who was overseeing the draft horses Tuesday as a 4-H volunteer, said she followed has Schurman’s guidance since she was 8 years old. For her, that’s 30 years of leadership that’s been handed down through her family.

“My mom was a 4-H leader and worked very closely with Carol, I grew up in the Faithful Furry Faces and Trail Blazers clubs. Now my daughter, when she turned 8 years old, got into 4-H,” Bourdess said.

“Carol has done all aspects of this. Everything from sewing to livestock to shooting. She has always kept us leaders up to date with our paperwork and doing everything correctly.”

The Bruner family, of Blairsville, has goats on show this week at the county fair.

Abigail, Elizabeth and John Clark Bruner are following the 4-H way set by their mom, Connie Bruner, who all have been under Schurman’s wing.

“I was in 4-H under Carol’s tutelage for 10 years from when I was 8 until I aged out at 18,” Connie Bruner said.

She had guidance in classes and camps in the 4-H gardening, dog, and textile science clubs, “and the interesting ones that people don’t think 4-H does, like photography, bicycling and archery,” Bruner said. “They have an awesome shooting sports program.”

She said that experience, and Schurman’s influence, led her to earn a degree in horticulture at Penn State.

“So we still do gardening at home, and with that comes canning and preserving, and that helps my family,” she said.

Schurman was her own motivation.

Director Ward Stover hired her in July 1977 as Indiana County’s first extension educator and as one of the first full-time 4-H educators in the state.

She invented the job on the fly.

“They didn’t have a lot of people totally focused on the 4-H program,” Schurman said. “Everyone in the office had some 4-H responsibility. But somewhere in that time it was thought that maybe a person dedicated to 4-H would be a good idea. Most counties now have a person dedicated to the program.”

Indiana County became a leader that way, Schurman said, because the board of commissioners in the 1970s saw fit to partially fund the position.

So she set off on a mission to shape the local 4-H organization, promote and grow it, encourage the members to learn and perfect their skills, and then to pursue excellence outside the Indiana County program.

Under Schurman, Indiana County 4-H programs regularly supported local kids as they advanced in competitive programs regionally and statewide.

It’s a point of pride.

“We have many, many 4-Hers who have contributed by going on to a regional event or a state event, but they can lead to national events,” she said. “I know we have had over 100 members who have gone on to national 4-H events. We look for those opportunities and I think we have done a really good job of getting them there.”

At the county fair on Tuesday, 4-H stalwarts didn’t lose sight of what 4-H has done for them right here at home

Kanouff said she parlayed her enthusiasm for 4-H as a youngster to take a job just like Schurman’s. She recently was hired as the 4-H Educator for Jefferson County in the Penn State Cooperative Extension Service office in Brookville.

Kanouff and Hritz are two of four former Indiana County 4-H club members who have gone on to take charge of county programs in Pennsylvania.

Kanouff said she’s doing the job in Brookville the way she saw Schurman do hers.

“It’s all I’ve known,” Kanouff said. “From a 4-Her on up through the ranks, it’s all I’ve known. Of course I’m going to put my own spin on how I do things, but a lot of what I learned from her is going to come up north with me. And definitely a love for the program.”

Katie White, 12, a young 4-H member showing swine at the fair this week, said Schurman has been an encouraging leader for her, early on in her membership.

“She gives everyone second chances and is real nice to everyone,” White said. “Whenever we do horse school, if we get an answer wrong, she’ll give you a second chance of answering. And if our 4-H books are not done by the due date, she’ll give you another date to do them.”

In that same basic sense, Bourdess said, Schurman has shaped the way she lives her life.

“Daily,” Bourdess said. “Every day. From the organization to public speaking, everything. I grew up in 4-H and it brings the timid shy kids and makes them blossom. When my daughter started, she was like a little turtle. Now each year she grows friendships and carries them on. I have friendships from growing up in 4-H that I still carry to this day.

“It’s all a part of 4-H and growing up with Carol.”

Connie Bruner said Tuesday that Schurman’s influence has had a lasting effect on her.

“No doubt! I am a better leader, a better public speaker,” Bruner said. “Growing up in her programs has taught me leadership skills, citizenship skills, community involvement. … I could go on and on.”

Within the Penn State Extension office, Carol Schurman was part of a tandem with her husband, Gene, over the decades. Gene Schurman, the county’s dairy specialist from 1982 to 2011, now is a salesman for Pioneer Seed Company. Gene worked in Cooperative Extension in Franklin County until 1977, when Carol accepted the 4-H Educator post in Indiana and Gene was hired as a vo-ag teacher at Purchase Line High School.

Stover tapped Carol Schurman for the 4-H, based on her summer work in his Indiana County office while she was in college five years earlier.

Four decades have brought many changes to Schurman’s work in advancing the 4-H program through the Extension office.

“Technology is different. Forty years ago we tracked everything on paper and we had no computers on our desks,” she said “All of our 4-H members are online and they are enrolled and tracked that way.

“That’s reflected in some of the project work we do,” Schurman said.

Hritz said she plans to advance the new 4-H robotics programs and emphasize programs centered on the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.

She is a co-chairman of 4-H STEM education programs for the state.

“That wouldn’t have happened four years ago,” Schurman said. “We’re much more into STEM just like education everywhere. Our projects are geared toward STEM activities and robotics is probably one of the biggest ones in the state,” Schurman said.

“But we always have been science oriented and people don’t realize that. We’re teaching kids how to process and prepare food, or how to raise animals, and there’s science in all of that. So we’ve always been science oriented but we’re stressing it more now that we have in the past.”

Schurman said she plans to stay as a volunteer to continue one of the projects she launched.

“I started a school enrichment program here in 4-H embryology, chick hatching. Every spring I go into about 20 classrooms, work with the teachers, and teach embryology and hope we get some chicks to hatch. We have incubators and eggs and I provide the teaching materials and project books,” Schurman said. “That’s a part of ag science, too, because that teaches them where their poultry and eggs come from.”

Her hopes for the future of 4-H include growing an endowment fund to support more programs for the members, and maintaining a dedicated corps of volunteers to keep the clubs alive.

“The traditional 4-H is what we’re really all about. That is our basis, we focus on that and the volunteer leaders contribute so much,” Schurman said. “They’re the backbone of our program. The volunteers that we have here, who are taking those clubs — that’s what really makes the 4-H program. And I would not be here without those traditional clubs.

“We have 18 clubs and more than 50 volunteers. It’s not the hugest program in the world but we have a lot of quality going on in this county.”

An ongoing issue that Schurman says has historically dogged 4-H is that many folks still don’t get it.

Although Indiana County, a rural area, was a leader in promoting 4-H programs through Schurman’s work, she said people get the wrong impression that 4-H is just for country kids.

“That’s still one of the misconceptions we deal with all the time. It’s a misconception across the state, an image that we’re all country and all animals and it’s certainly not the case.

“Nationally, only 10 percent of our members actually come from farm settings. In Indiana County, I’m not sure our number is much higher than 10 percent.”

Take the 4-H pledge as an example. (The Hs stand for Head, Heart, Hands and Health.)  It calls for members to strive for clearer thinking, greater loyalty, larger service and better living, “for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”

Doesn’t say it’s a farm thing.

Members can raise rabbits and other small animals no matter where they live. 4-H clubs specialize in dogs, cats, sewing, archery, robotics and an entire spectrum of skills that interest children.

“It’s something I’ve worked on for 40 years. It’s an ongoing problem for all staff in our state to get the picture across that, yes, we started with a farm emphasis 100 years ago, but now we reach out to anybody and  everybody.”

That’s clear this week at the county fair, where Schurman’s fingerprints seem inescapable.

“Every barn you walk through, there are so many people who grew up or had some part in 4-H,” Bourdess said. “Every one of these barns, Carol has touched these kids and worked with these leaders.”

Staff writer/Web Editor, The Indiana (Pa.) Gazette

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the county courthouse; Indiana Area and Homer-Center schools; Blairsville, Homer City, Clymer, Center and Burrell; and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.