From the small town of Sharon, Oklahoma, Louis and Betty Gardner and their five children, the late Carrie Gardner Morris, Brett Gardner, Jill Gardner Watkins, Jeanne Gardner Mann and Kent Gardner, are the epitome of a 4-H family.
Betty’s love for 4-H sparked when she was a young girl.
“When I was in 4-H, it was more of a basic life skills thing,” she said. “Mostly, I did canning and sewing. I didn’t get to show animals, and that was something I thought was so cool.”
Betty fondly remembers her time spent on her county’s 4-H judging team as they traveled to the Oklahoma State Fair for the State Judging Competition.
“We spent the entire week there,” she said. “Every day we judged something different, whether it was clothing or canning.”
Although Louis was only in 4-H for two years when he was growing up, he and his wife still recognized the priceless value 4-H would have in their children’s lives. Betty said there was no doubt her children were going to be enrolled in 4-H as soon as they turned 9 years old.
“I guess it was just expected because of the learning skills in 4-H,” she said. “It was a great program for us.”
Jeanne said her mom was the biggest influence in her and her siblings’ 4-H career.
“She knew the only way for us to have the opportunity to attend college was through scholarships, and she knew that began with the skills and leadership gained through 4-H,” she said. “She vowed to help us in any way possible and became our 4-H leader to accomplish this goal.”
Being the parents of five involved and successful 4-H’ers, Louis and Betty said they were extremely busy and enjoyed every minute of it.
“Betty would take one kid one direction and I’d take one another,” Louis said.
Jill said her parents drove countless miles, ensuring their children made it to every event.
“They were always involved in each activity we participated in, whether we were putting in the family garden, going to a sheep show or horticulture contest, or they were just calming our nerves before a big interview,” she said.
The Gardners were actively involved in a variety of 4-H projects, including gardening, food and nutrition, sheep, meats, citizenship, sewing and more.
All five children served in numerous 4-H leadership roles on the local, county and state levels, and won countless awards. Jeanne was named a Presidential Silver Tray winner at National 4-H Congress in Chicago, an honor she and her family recall as one of their proudest moments. Among the Gardner children’s other accomplishments, Kent was inducted into the Oklahoma 4-H Hall of Fame in 1997.
Kent, the youngest of the Gardner children, said although his family was involved in numerous aspects of 4-H, they never lost sight of their close family bond.
“Mom would take care of certain things and dad would mainly take care of livestock, but we did the big events together,” he said.
No specific memorable moment stands out in Brett’s mind when he reflects on his time as a 4-H’er, he said. The collection of each memory spent with his family holds a special place in his heart.
Kent said all of his siblings were his role models, and their achievements in academics, 4-H and other extra curricular activities inspired him to always strive for excellence.
“I was fortunate enough to watch four outstanding people,” he said.
The late Carrie, the oldest Gardner child, was an inspiration and valued supporter to her younger siblings, Jeanne said, and she made the most of every opportunity given to her.
“She loved everything and wanted to be involved in anything and everything she could,” Brett said. “She was a true trailblazer.”
Kent said his oldest sister, who he thought of as a second mom, worked hard to set the standard he and the rest of his siblings followed.
“It’s easy to come behind,” he said. “It’s the person who went out into the thicket and removed the limbs to make it easier for the person following behind, and that person was Carrie.”
Each of Louis and Betty’s children were valedictorians of their high school graduating classes. In addition, they all earned full-ride scholarships to attend Oklahoma State University.
“They knew they would have to get scholarships to go to OSU, which was their dream goal,” Betty said. “We all worked hard to achieve that goal.”
Today, Jill and Jeanne are stay-at-home moms, raising children involved in their communities and utilizing their 4-H skills and experiences to take care of their families.
Brett currently is a managing partner with Global Livestock Solutions and Kent serves as general council with Funk Companies in Oklahoma City. Recently, Brett and Kent sponsored an endowment to fund the trip to the National 4-H Conference as part of the matching challenge program for the Oklahoma 4-H Foundation. Brett said he enjoys providing monetary resources to 4-H, as it allows others to have opportunities to grow personally and professionally.
“The Gardner Family Endowment will have an impact for as long as that event is in existence,” said Jim Rutledge, executive director for the Oklahoma 4-H Foundation. “National 4-H Conference is an experience that can change a life forever because it exposes Oklahoma youth to a whole new world of opportunities.”
Kent said his family will continue to give back to Oklahoma 4-H.
“It’s a foundation block that was part of my parents’ lives that they made part of ours,” he said. “We have built our careers and families based upon 4-H. To say our family was blessed by 4-H is an understatement.”