If you’ve ever been to the Rock Eagle 4-H Center auditorium, you know the stage is fairly tall. Maybe that’s why Dr. Bo Ryles always seemed 10 feet tall to me as he served as state 4-H leader through my middle- and high-school years.
He seemed completely accessible and personable, while at the same time radiating some magic quality of leadership.
And it wasn’t just Ryles. The other state 4-H staff members also seemed larger than life.
My freshman year of college, missing my 4-H activities while in Athens, I emailed one of those state staff members and asked if I could volunteer.
For several months, I volunteered 10 hours per week entering data on 4-H alumni for the Georgia 4-H foundation before being offered a part-time job for the rest of my college career.
Sure, I would have done anything for 4-H, but I must admit that much of my motivation was getting to see those "stars" each day down the hall.
I brought my lunch each day to eat between classes and work and was surprised that so many others in the office also brought a lunch. Sitting around a little table in the crowded break room, I heard the funniest and most amazing stories each day.
I heard stories about 4-H’ers, students, camp counselors and county agents … stories that pop back up into my head sometimes when I have a crazy day at work.
While I work in 4-H today and know most of the state staff fairly well, I must admit I’m a little nostalgic any time I get the chance to stop by the state office.
I somehow always expect to see Doris Nevels Hall in that first office, Dan Aamoth with his faded Georgia cup of water, or Dr. Bo Ryles grabbing yet another cup of coffee as they go about the work of running the state 4-H program.
Someone asked me this week if Dr. Bo influenced me to go into 4-H work. He was one of many influences, but, yes, he played a huge role.
Even back in college, I knew he collected cool cars. I know now that he also uses them to haul chickens for 4-H poultry-judging practice.
Many people around the state know he runs races, sometimes three or four in a single day. They also know that he organizes and supports a series of races to benefit 4-H clubs.
Since retirement, he’s turned that love of coffee into a career, too, but even it’s named Clover Coffee.
I still see Dr. Bo regularly at Master 4-H Club meetings, since we’re both board members. He also sang and played at my wedding this summer.
A reporter for the Florida Times Union interviewed me about the Master 4-H Club, and seemed very surprised to hear about the dedication of members.
"You mean you all joined 4-H as kids and just never left?" he asked.
Yes, sir, that’s us.
So I’m still not quite sure how to put it in a single quote for the person who asked — but no, Dr. Bo didn’t just influence my career. He’s influenced my life, and continues to do so. I can’t imagine anyone in my 4-H experience more suited to the honor he received last week as one of the newest inductees into the National 4-H Hall of Fame.
He joins Newton County’s own G.C. Adams in this prestigious group. But I didn’t need to hear about this honor to know that he’s always been my 4-H hero.
Terri Kimble Fullerton is Newton County 4-H Agent through UGA Cooperative Extension, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.