By Travis Mounts
The Times-Sentinel/WestSide Story
A familiar face to generations of Sedgwick County 4-Hers will soon be moving on to new things.
4-H Extension agent Jodi Besthorn is retiring in September, at the end of the current 4-H year. She has been an Extension agent for 39-1/2 years, the last 21 in Sedgwick County. Before that, she worked in Smith County in north-central Kansas.
Besthorn never imagined she’d find herself in the state’s most populous county. Sedgwick County is the only Kansas county with more than one 4-H agent.
“I thought I’d always be in a smaller county. I love rural Kansas. But it’s been a good move,” Besthorn said.
She grew up in Claflin, a small town near Great Bend in Barton County. She was a 4-Her growing up, and those experiences directed her to her career.
“I always admired our 4-H agents. They always seemed to know everything you needed to know,” she said. She found the agents to be poised and good at solving problems.
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the July edition of the WestSide Story, and in the July 11 print edition of The Times-Sentinel. To get The Times-Sentinel delivered to your home, call 316-540-0500 and start your subscription.
As a youth, Besthorn enjoyed traditional FACS – family and consumer sciences. In generations past, the term was “home economics.”
Besthorn earned her teaching certificate, “but I knew I didn’t want to be in a classroom setting,” she said. The Sterling College graduate embarked on a different path. She did food preparation for a couple of year before the right opportunity came along.
She tells kids to be patient when pursuing their dreams.
“You don’t always get things immediately. You have to try things before you land,” Besthorn said. “Once I landed, I stuck.”
She paused for a moment when asked what she likes best about her job.
“I like to see the excitement in the kids’ eyes when they accomplish something they want to do,” she said. She liked seeing the growth of kids over six or seven years, as they grew into leadership roles. “I enjoyed the adults, too, affecting families and communities in positive ways.”
Community is a big part of 4-H, Besthorn said.
“They do activities in the communities where they live. They keep our communities, whether it’s a neighborhood or a city, more connected,” she said.
4-H is a family commitment. It’s about more than just the youth. Parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents become involved. And there’s the tag-a-long programs for sibling who are not old enough to join 4-H,
“One of the ‘magic’ pieces of 4-H is the kids have many adult role models,” Besthorn said. “It’s a family, and ‘family’ can be very big and broad.”
Besthorn always looked for new ways to engage kids.
“Agriculture is still part of our heritage, but kids want to be involved in rocketry or photography or robotics. They don’t necessarily join to go to meetings or learn about parliamentary procedure,” she said.
The top projects in Sedgwick County are photography, arts and crafts, leadership and shooting sports.
“You can do these anywhere, at any time,” Besthorn said.
Youth in 4-H still have an affinity for animals, she said. Those animals can include dogs and cats, rabbits and chickens. Statewide, larger animals are a bigger part of 4-H. However, you will still find plenty of cows, pigs, sheep and lambs at the Sedgwick County Fair, which runs July 10-13 in Cheney.
But Sedgwick County is more of a suburban/urban culture. There are 14 clubs in communities across the county, including in Wichita. The Delano 4-H Club and the River City Kids hold their monthly meetings at the Sedgwick County Extension Center, located at 21st Street North and Ridge Road. Goddard gives West Wichita a third club.
Besthorn has always loved FACS and said she still leans toward the traditional family services, but her job has taught her many new things.
“I have learned a ton about geology and entomology and dogs and rocketry,” she said. Besthorn said her job was how to deliver opportunities for kids to pursue those things. “I didn’t have to be the expert. I had to find the expert.”
Access to K-State resources made the job much easier.
“It’s about connecting people together,” she said.
Besthorn said adopting to a digital world was one of the challenges, adding she learned digital skills along the way. She said it’s also hard helping people deal with disappointment. That can be a youth who got a red or white ribbon instead of a purple or blue, or a child who has to say goodbye to an animal at the Sedgwick County Fair 4-H auction.
The Fair is a major part of the 4-H year. It’s another opportunity for Besthorn to connect with the youth in the 4-H program.
“I try to have them show me their exhibits, meet them one-on-one, see what they’ve accomplished,” she said. “And eat the Fair food.”
When Besthorn first moved to Wichita, settling on the WestSide, she would visit nearby small towns on Saturday and Sunday. She has many more small towns to go to now that she is retiring..
“I look forward to some day trips,” she said.
She also wants to travel internationally, and have time for more family visits to Utah and North Carolina. She plans to volunteer in schools, and will continue to be active in the West Wichita Rotary Club.
“I’ll still make Sedgwick County home,” Besthorn said.
She has grown to love the area and its roughly 535 active 4-H members.
“I think Sedgwick County has the best 4-H members, best Extension staff and best volunteers in Kansas. They are a great group of people,” she said.
Besthorn’s retirement takes effect on Sept. 3. It will likely be a few months after that before her replacement is hired.
Until then, Besthorn will stay busy. She is a regular fixture at the Sedgwick County Fair, and can usually be found in the Farm Bureau Building on the Fairgrounds in Cheney. That building includes numerous 4-H exhibits, including foods, horticulture, arts and crafts, rocketry, entomology and geology.