Student leads young 4-H'ers at Ellis County Fair

Anthony Walters 4-H

By Diane Gasper-O'Brien
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. -- He admits he has learned a lot in leadership classes at Fort Hays State University.

But those who know Anthony Walters well will tell you that his leadership training began long before he set foot on his hometown college campus.

Like so many years before, Walters -- who will begin his senior year at FHSU this fall -- was a busy young man Tuesday, scurrying around the Schenk Building at the Ellis County Fairgrounds.

Tuesday was judging day at the fair, and Walters was organizing various displays so that young 4-H'ers could meet with judges about their projects.

Now 21, Walters has surpassed the age for participating as a 4-H'er. But that hasn't stopped him from returning to the fair every year to lend a helping hand.

That dedication hasn't gone unnoticed.

"He's an amazing young man," said Susan Schlichting, 4-H Youth Development Extension agent for Ellis County. "Here's a college-age kid who is really willing to come out and help where it's needed and make a difference."

Walters started learning about making a difference at a young age. The oldest of four siblings, Walters joined the Buckeye Junior Farmers 4-H Club when he was 7, even though his dad, Marty, was a little skeptical at first because of an already ultra-busy schedule with a young family.

But Walters' mom, Anita, explained to her husband that the Buckeye 4-H Club met in an old schoolhouse on Buckeye Road north of Hays. The Walters family passed the schoolhouse every time it traveled into town, where they already were becoming active in school and community activities.

"I thought maybe we should give 4-H a try," Anita Walters said. "Marty's first reaction was, 'You want to get them involved in something else?' "

"I told him it was so close to home, and we wouldn't have to go to town," she continued. "And, here we are."

Anita Walters said her husband now says "he would have given up all the other things the kids were involved in for their experiences they have had in 4-H."

"The leadership, how to communicate with people, a platform to showcase their talents, I can't even tell you all the things the kids have learned," she said.

"And," added Anita Walters, an instructor in FHSU's Health and Human Performance Department, "I have learned a lot just sitting there alongside them."

The entire Walters family got involved in the county fair immediately after Anthony joined 4-H.

Inspired by an older 4-H'er, Walters chose rocketry for his first fair project, and so began the process of younger 4-H'ers learning from their elders, both by watching and by doing.

In addition to taking numerous projects to the fair over the years, Walters began working as an assistant fair superintendent early in his high school career. He soon was promoted to superintendent in charge of the "miscellaneous" division, the home for a variety of projects such as woodworking, rocketry, electrical, robotics and several others that didn't fit into other categories.

It was a natural fit though for Walters, who had been involved with a lot of those particular disciplines and said he has always "enjoyed helping out younger kids, giving them advice when they would ask for it."

When Walters came home the summer after his first year of college at Ottawa University, he stayed put. He checked out the applied technology program at FHSU and was particularly interested in drafting.

During the 2015 spring semester, the building construction class at FHSU built a new 4-H food stand at the Ellis County Fairgrounds. Walters wasn't part of that class, but he played a major role in finishing the inside of the food stand.

After he got off work at Paul-Wertenberger Construction, Inc., in the summer of 2015, Walters headed to the fairgrounds to work on the food stand.

"No one told him he had to be there, but he knew it had to be finished," Schlichting said. "He believes in 4-H, takes it seriously and does a good job with it."

Walters had grown up working in the old 4-H food stand in a building that had long outlived its usefulness.

"I think he saw the benefit of having this new facility for the kids, compared to that old run-down building," his mother said. "When the call came out that they needed help to get the inside done, he just decided to help."

"I went to help one night and realized it was going to take some work to get it done by fair time," Walters said. "If I didn't help, it wasn't going to be done in time."

Walters became involved in the Technology and Engineering Education Collegiate Association chapter at FHSU, where he also pursued a certificate in Leadership Studies.

"I think his 4-H experience definitely played a part in his willingness to be involved on campus," Anita Walters said.

This year, more than likely, will be Anthony Walters' swan song as a fair superintendent, for a while anyway. He will serve a required internship for his major during the spring 2017 semester for Paul-Wertenberger, which has already hired him to work as a full-time draftsman after his May graduation.

Walters credits the life skills he experienced in 4-H for a big part of his success.

"Being in 4-H has helped me in a lot of areas," Walters said. "Talking in front of people comes easy now, and I've met so many people through 4-H. And not just young people. I'm able to talk to people 20, 30 years older than me, too."

Cutline: FHSU's Anthony Walters sets up projects during judging day at the Ellis County Fair. Photo by Paige Thompson.

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