October 2017
Youth Matters

4-H Extension Corner: She Bleeds Green

Alabama Extension’s Betty Gottler has been named to the 2017 National 4-H Hall of Fame.

 

Betty Gottler

Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Betty Gottler has been selected as a National 4-H Hall of Fame Laureate. Gottler was selected because of her significant contribution to 4-H, the nation’s premier youth development organization. She is one of 16 individuals who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame during a special ceremony Oct. 6 at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

The National 4-H Hall of Fame was established in 2002 to recognize those who have made a significant impact in 4-H at the local, state or national level.

"Betty Gottler is the only field-based 4-H agent being inducted in the National Hall of Fame. That fact alone reflects the impact Betty has had on 4-H in Alabama and across the nation," said Dr. Gary Lemme, director of ACES. "Betty is committed to the 4-H slogan of ‘Making the best better.’ She is a true ambassador for Alabama 4-H. We are blessed to have her as a member of the Alabama Extension family."

"No one bleeds green more or loves 4-H more than Betty Gottler," said Dr. Molly Gregg, assistant director of Alabama 4-H. "She is our organization’s historian and has a real servant’s heart for youth and Alabama communities."

4-H – Her Life’s Work

Gottler knew from a young age that 4-H was her life’s work. For her, 4-H was a family affair. Her mother was an Extension agent when she met her father at a research station program. Gottler and her two brothers were members in St. Benedict’s School 4-H Club and the Elberta Community 4-H Club. Her parents were leaders of both clubs. The three children excelled in Alabama 4-H, and were involved in club projects, state projects, fairs, community parades and service projects.

"Extension was in our blood. We frequently visited the Baldwin County Extension Office with our parents," Gottler recalled. "It was a delightful place for us to explore, and we felt like we were home."

Her Start

When Gottler completed her education degree at the University of Montevallo in 1974, she began work as a 4-H educator in Morgan County. She worked almost 30 years in the county setting. Under her leadership, the county averaged 75 4-H clubs with more than 4,500 youth enrolled each year. Many of her 4-H members were state and national winners, and were active on the local, regional and state levels.

"Through the years, many wonderful volunteers, teachers and parents helped us," Gottler said.

Elberta Community 4-H club members prepare and practice for a demonstration at Baldwin County’s 4-H competition.

 

Mike Reeves, Morgan County Extension coordinator, said he knows of no one who has a greater love or dedication to 4-H than Gottler.

"I am blessed to have a great 4-H program in this county because of the foundation that Betty laid. In retirement, Betty continues to be involved in our county programs and even on a state level," Reeves said. "We still consider Betty a part of our county 4-H team. She simply loves 4-H and the youth that this great program impacts."

Penny Eddy was one of Gottler’s 4-H members from 1980 to 1987. Eddy said she is a better person because of the role Gottler played in her life.

"Betty Gottler played a huge part in who I am. She impacted my life in ways I could never repay in a lifetime," Eddy said. "She taught me to be responsible and give 100 percent in everything I did for my club, my community, my country and my world. Those words will always echo in my ears."

Sharon Brooks Hardy was another one of Gottler’s 4-H members.

"Betty Gottler provided me the opportunity to participate in AMP Camp and Electrical Demonstrations. This showed me I could pursue engineering and be successful in that career," Hardy said. "Betty has always been a great role model for us Morgan County girls."

When Alabama Extension restructured to a regional 4-H staff model, Gottler served five northeast Alabama counties with volunteer training, program planning and regional councils.

Praise From Former Colleagues

Gottler worked well with Extension specialists and other colleagues.

"Betty is more than deserving of this honor," said Kenneth Gamble, a 4-H Foundation Regional Extension Agent in Morgan County. "I am so proud and honored to have worked beside and with her for so many years. She embodies everything 4-H stands for, and has taught and encouraged me in so many ways."

"Betty and I met while working on our master’s degrees," said Peggy Prucnal, retired Shelby County 4-H Agent and County Coordinator. "Through the years, we attended several state and national meetings. Betty served on many committees and held chair positions. She encouraged many younger agents to take leadership roles in their professional organizations."

Gottler moved to the state 4-H office when Alabama celebrated the 4-H Centennial in 2009. She was in charge of the state 4-H awards program, which came with a lot of responsibilities. After the Centennial, she planned citizenship and leadership programs until her retirement May 31, 2012.

Max Runge, Extension specialist, was one of Betty’s first 4-H members.

"Betty helped me go places and achieve goals I would otherwise not have accomplished," Runge added. "Thanks to her suggestions and influence, I was selected to attend conferences in Washington and in College Station, Texas. The ultimate experience was attending National 4-H Congress as Alabama’s state winner in agriculture."

Janet McCoy, director of communications and marketing with the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, worked with Gottler in the state 4-H office in 2008 and 2009.

"Betty is the embodiment of 4-H," McCoy said. "From her time as an Alabama 4-H member to her current position on the 4-H foundation board, she is a testament to the impact 4-H has on a person’s life. I had the privilege of being mentored by Betty. I watched as she instilled 4-H values into the lives of youth. Betty brought that same enthusiasm and dedication to inspire colleagues in their professional careers."

Still Active as a Volunteer

Gottler continues to be active as a volunteer in her local community and across the state. She is involved with various community and church activities in her home county.

"This gives me the chance to say thank you to all the people who helped me when I called them," Gottler said.

She volunteers for the Hartselle Fine Arts Center as well as with the St. Vincent de Paul Society at her church, who assist those in need with utilities, rent, medicine and other needs.

"All the home visits I made with Extension nutrition and financial management programs help me with this," Gottler said.

She still says yes when Extension and 4-H need her assistance. A year after her retirement, the Alabama 4-H Club Foundation Inc. asked her to serve as a program committee chair and help administer innovation grants across Alabama through the foundation.

NAE4-HA Highlights

In 1976, Gottler learned about the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents. She quickly decided she wanted to be involved. An organizational committee was formed and they approached Extension administration about forming a state association. Two years later, they had a constitution and bylaws. The Alabama Extension 4-H Association was formed in 1979 and Gottler was a charter member. She also served as the third president of the organization. She attended her first national meeting in 1978 and has not missed a national meeting since.

Gottler has held numerous offices in NAE4-HA since 1984:

  • Junior and senior regional editor

  • Two-time national editor of News and Views

  • Co-chair of two state conferences

  • 40th anniversary committee member

  • 50th anniversary committee co-chair

  • Centennial Celebration committee member

Gottler is currently working on "4-H Stories From the Heart Vol II," the Life Member committee and the 75th anniversary committee.

National Awards

Gottler has received national NAE4-HA awards including the 1964 Distinguished Service Award, the 2000 25-year Service Award, the 2004 Natural Resources Environmental Award and the 2010 Meritorious Service Award.

 

Donna Reynolds is the communication editor of news and public affairs with ACES in Auburn.