Retiring Colorado 4-H Foundation Executive Director reflects on rewards of a career in 4-H

Snowstorms have a way of defining major life events. A nasty winter storm in Wyoming in 1975 set Gary Small on the path to a lifelong career in 4-H. The storm forced the 19-year-old to stop over in Douglas, Wyoming. He was heading to his family’s ranch from Northwest College in Powell.

Now retiring from his role as Colorado 4-H Foundation Executive Director, Small, all those years ago, happened to know the 4-H Extension agent in town. Besides giving him lodging for the night, he spent the evening talking of the many rewards and opportunities afforded by a career in 4-H.

“As I reflect on the last 39 years, one theme seems to prevail: “Incredible Opportunities,” said Small. “I thank my family, friends and colleagues for sharing knowledge with me over the years and for the wealth of great memories,” he said.

Not long after his graduation, Small was hired as an Extension agent for Laramie County in Cheyenne, Wyoming. While there, he helped organize the 4-H Junior Legislative Program, in partnership with the Wyoming state capitol. He established 501(c)3 Healthy Infant Capable Adolescent Program, a collaboration of the Extension office, 4-H and the Laramie County school district. With support from a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant, the program provided education, support and childcare services to teen mothers, enabling them to finish school. Although this work meant leaving his young family for frequent travel to Washington, D.C., he counts the work of the successful program as some of the most rewarding of his career.

“He traveled so much, our oldest daughter used to put her stuffed animals in his suitcase so he’d remember her,” recalled Gary’s wife Mary (right), also serving Colorado State University Extension as the State Master Gardener Coordinator.

A new leadership opportunity became available in 1996 through the Larimer County Extension program, and together with Mary and three children (Amanda, Adam and Sara), the family moved south to Loveland. Highlights of his 11 years as the Larimer County 4-H Extension Agent included the creation of the Technology Tour program in partnership with regional businesses, and outreach and campaign activities that led to the development of the 244-acre Ranch Events Complex in Loveland. The regional hub is the home of the Larimer County Fairgrounds, indoor and outdoor arenas, and the Budweiser Events Center.

“Gary has always been willing to do whatever it takes to make the kids and program succeed,” said Verla Noakes, Fremont County Extension Agent. “He’s willing to step out of his comfort zone to make things happen.”

It was Small’s deep desire to put more funds into all of Colorado’s county 4-H programs that led him to take on the role of Executive Director of the Colorado 4-H Foundation a decade ago. During his tenure, he estimates that the financial support to the state’s county programs has tripled. Securing funding through means that include a huge multi-year grant from the Daniels Fund and the Ford Truck Raffle program have helped the Foundation provide visibility and scholarship opportunities for 4-Hers throughout Colorado.

“The stability and growth of the Colorado 4-H Foundation have increased tremendously under Gary’s direction,” said Jean Glowacki, Colorado 4-H Program Director. “His commitment to supporting 4-H programs in every county of our state has enriched countless lives of youth during his tenure as Executive Director.”

For nearly four decades, 4-H has benefited from a true champion of the program. From his own experience as a 4-H member, to a commendable career and multiple positions on the National Association of 4-H Extension Agents Board, Small’s legacy is solidified by his positive impact on thousands of 4-H youth, families and agents across Colorado and the nation.

Written by Mary Peck, communications coordinator for the Colorado 4-H Foundation.