George and Shirley Hazle are familiar faces in Clinton County 4-H and local, regional and state dairy industry circles. The couple – who collectively have served 115 years as county 4-H club leaders – has provided a constant supply of encouragement, leadership and instruction to youth, even before their oldest daughter was old enough to start participating in 4-H in 1961. This year is George’s 60th year and Shirley’s 55th year as a 4-H club leader and volunteer.
Fellow Clinton County 4-H club leader Gary Hurst has known the Hazle’s for 25 years. He said they bring an unparalleled level of commitment to both 4-H members and the organization as a whole.
“The knowledge they provide to young people is endless, and their continual promotion of the dairy industry is probably overlooked by many,” he shared. “It’s nice anytime someone commits a few years of their life to an organization, but when we start talking about dedicating 55 years or more, then it’s a lifetime commitment that not many people can even begin to dream about.
“The influence they have had on my life has been a blessing,” Hurst continued. “Even though we have had a few disagreements along the way, I am a better person for having known them.”
Shirley Hazle is most impressed by the work ethic she sees instilled in young people who participate in 4-H. Another highlight is watching 4-H members grow up and seeing what the highest achievers accomplish in their life and careers.
“Years ago, one of our next door neighbors didn’t have cows, but the young daughter became involved in our 4-H group anyway,” she recalled. “Thanks to being involved in 4-H and working with the animals, she went on to college to become a veterinarian and is still practicing today.”
Hazle added that volunteering never gets old, even though the couple has considered retiring from their 4-H club leadership in the past, only to find themselves back for another year.
“You never get old when you’re working with kids!” Shirley admitted. “Volunteering and working with the young people allows us a chance to teach and, when you’re working one on one with the kids, you get to know them on a different level. It never gets old.”
George started his 4-H career as a member of a potato club, and then switched to a dairy club when his family moved to a dairy farm in Fowler. The Hazle’s started their 4-H volunteer career with the Victor 4-H Club, the club Shirley had been a member of for 10 years as she was growing up. They transitioned to the Scattered Southeast 4-H Club, one of the county’s oldest groups, a few years later. This club has traditionally been smaller with an average of six to 10 active members at any given time. This year’s group, which includes two Clover Buds (ages 5 to 8 ) and four older members, are preparing to exhibit at the annual Michigan 4-H Dairy Days July 18-21 at Michigan State University (MSU) and the Clinton County Fair in St. Johns July 31-August 4.
George has worked with dairy cattle for his entire life, first as a herdsman, then as an A.I. (artificial insemination) technician and milk tester before starting to build his own dairy herd when his oldest daughter started participating in 4-H. Shirley, a crop farmer’s daughter who swore she’d never marry a dairy farmer, took on dairy farming as a full-time career after working 30 years as a milk tester. The couple, who will celebrate their 61st anniversary this November, is still actively dairy farming at their rural St. Johns operation where they milk 60 head of registered Holsteins and Brown Swiss animals.
The Hazle’s will be participating in this year’s 4-H Dairy Days, which are scheduled for July 18–21.