Gene and Ann Benson have been a part of Oklahoma 4-H for the majority of their lives.
Gene, a Kingfisher County 4-H alumnus, was involved in the swine and dairy projects. He said he fondly remembers his time as a member of his local 4-H dairy judging team, traveling to numerous contests and even being named a state champion his first year on the team.
Although evaluating dairy cows was part of his responsibility as a dairy judger, Gene recalls someone else catching his eye at judging competitions, his wife, Ann.
“I kept seeing this good looking red-headed girl judging dairy cows,” he said. “Fifteen years later, we ended up married.”
Ann was an active 4-H’er in Logan County, participating in a variety of projects such as dairy, public speaking and fabrics and fashions.
She gives credit to Bill Lucas, former Logan County 4-H educator, for encouraging her to join and be active in 4-H.
With Lucas’ assistance, Ann began in the dairy project by showing a heifer calf. Soon after, she discovered her talent as a dairy judge.
“I give so much credit to my experiences in dairy judging because of the public speaking opportunities,” Ann said. “I can’t describe the impact those experiences had on my life.”
Aside from her dairy involvement, Ann served as a state 4-H officer and was a delegate on several national and international 4-H trips. She wrapped up her 4-H career with her induction into the Oklahoma 4-H Hall of Fame in 1965.
After high school, Gene and Ann attended Oklahoma State University, where they found their passion for education. Gene pursued a degree in agricultural education while Ann majored in home economics. Both left OSU with master’s degrees in educational administration, and Ann finished with her Ed.D.
Gene began his career as an agricultural education teacher in Mulhall-Orlando public schools. Although he spent the majority of his time working with his students in FFA, he made it a priority to guide younger youth in 4-H.
“When I was an ag teacher, I knew how important it was to get kids involved at a young age,” he said.
Besides being the local 4-H leader, Ann worked with Gene’s students, teaching public speaking, meats judging and dairy judging, she said.
“It was great to work together to serve kids of all ages,” Ann said.
Gene and Ann transitioned their love for 4-H into their family. Their son, Brian, was an involved 4-H’er. Additionally, Brian and his wife Brooke’s son, the late Brady Benson, also found his niche in 4-H.
Brady, who was born with a heart defect, was challenged in other extra-curricular activities such as athletics. However, he shined in 4-H through his photography and love for showing pigs.
“The one thing he loved more than anything else was his 4-H experiences,” Ann said.
One of Gene and Ann’s proudest moments as grandparents was when Brady’s photography was exhibited as a state winner at the Oklahoma State Fair. Gene also took Brady to his first 4-H speech contest where he won 1st place.
Following the passing of Brady at age 10, the Bensons established the Brady Benson Memorial Scholarship through the Foundation, a scholarship awarded to a Logan County 4-H’er each year.
The Bensons’ 4-H involvement also gave Ann an opportunity to serve on the Foundation’s board of directors. She has been a valued member of the Foundation since 2008.
“The 4-H Foundation is about helping young people,” Ann said. “I’ve never forgotten standing and saying the 4-H pledge and talking about making the best better as a member. To me, that’s what 4-H has always been about, and the Foundation is doing that.”
Gene said giving back to 4-H has never been a question.
“We feel really good to be in a position to give a little back,” he said. “We couldn’t imagine not helping youth. It’s such a good feeling.”
Photo provided by Gene and Ann Benson