Naper Notes Blog

Naper Settlement's blog will feature special events, historical happenings and interesting tidbits about Naperville's only history museum.

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Feb 08

Founding Farmers of 4-H

Posted on February 8, 2016 at 10:25 AM by Donna DeFalco

By Barbara Hower, lifelong Naperville resident

Many times when I’m working on Naper Settlement research projects, I end up finding some other interesting story I want to investigate. Sometimes there’s a family connection, but not always. This particular project did have such a connection.

In anticipation of the future Agricultural Heritage Center that will be constructed at Naper Settlement, I was listening to oral histories of some of Naperville’s farm families, looking for interesting stories about Naperville’s rural past. The proposed center will chronicle the rich history of agriculture in Naperville.
In Tom Drendel’s recollections of growing up on his family’s farm on Hobson Road, I heard him mention a familiar name: Harry Wright. According to Drendel, Harry Wright, Sr. encouraged his father, Andrew, and two other men—Harry Gregory and Don Babel—to help start the DuPage County 4-H.

Harry Wright’s oldest son, Harry Wright, Jr., happens to be my brother-in-law, so there’s the family connection. Harry S. Wright, Sr., moved to Naperville in 1930, was the farm advisor for the DuPage County Farm Bureau, and was active in 4-H. He raised the first hybrid corn here and helped introduce the first fertilization program and grew the first soybeans in DuPage County.

What makes the family connection a little stronger is that when my mother was in Naperville High School, she babysat for H.S. Wright’s children, including the little boy (Harry Wright, Jr) who would eventually become her son-in-law. Junior, as we call him, also was an Illinois farm advisor (in Central Illinois) and active in 4-H. 

The Farm Bureau grew out of the extension education movement at U.S. land grant colleges, which offered institutes and off-campus education for farmers. County agents would furnish farmers with information on improved methods of animal husbandry and farming methods. This has evolved into the modern day Cooperative Extension System.

4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization and originated as the youth development program of the Cooperative Extension System. The focus of 4-H was to create opportunities that would help youth become responsible citizens leading healthy and productive lives. Science-focused innovations were always a top priority. In fact, a current focus in 4-H is steering youth toward topics in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) through hands-on activities and projects. Focus areas for 4-H science programs include:

• Robotics
• Rocketry
• Environmental Science
• Agri-Science
• Biotechnology
• Veterinary Science

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Sometimes it’s hard to realize that Naperville was once a sleepy little farming community, but it’s important to remember how our town started out. 
                                            - Barbara Hower

Editor’s Note: Naper Settlement will be holding a fundraiser, a “Barn Raising Benefit,” on November 5 to raise money for the new Agricultural Interpretive Center that will chronicle the state’s rich history of agriculture through the experiences of Naperville and surrounding area farmers. The 4,500-square-foot barn structure and state-of-the-art exhibitions will feature highly-engaging interactives that bring to life a prominent collection of agricultural equipment recently donated to the museum by the Wheatland Plowing Match Association.

Barbara Hower is a lifelong Napervillian with an abiding interest in history. She is a graduate of North Central College in Naperville with a double major in English and History, the same college where her parents attended and where her father was the college registrar and Classics professor. In addition to volunteering in the Naper Settlement Research Library and Archives, Barbara is also a communications consultant, specializing in researching, writing and editing for not-for-profit and for-profit companies, and is a published author in major newspapers and magazines. She has worked for several large professional services firms as a writer and researcher and also served as an editor/writer for numerous magazines and newsletters.