By Tim Leeds
A lifelong dedication to 4-H has earned a Hi-Line farmer an award from the state 4-H organization.
Tammy Duncan, who farms north of Joplin with her husband, Bruce Duncan, and is the organizational leader for the Chirping Meadowlarks 4-H club, was named one of two Outstanding 4-H Alumni for 2004. The other honoree was Carol Linafelter of Cascade County.
Both were selected by the executive board of the Montana 4-H Foundation.
Local 4-H'ers say Duncan deserves the award.
"I don't think they could have picked anyone better," said Donna Barkley of Gildford, who is organizational leader of the Hill County Hot Shots 4-H club.
"Tammy's a great person. She makes things really fun. She's fun to be around," said Havre High School junior Katon Gerky, a member of the Bear Paw Beavers 4-H club.
"You always hope she's cooking. She clearly makes the best food," he added.
Duncan said the Chirping Meadowlarks have made great achievements, but she credits the members.
"It's been very successful. These kids have done amazing things," Duncan said.
Hill County Extension agent Wendy Gerky, Katon Gerky's mother, said some of the credit has to go to Duncan.
"We just really like her. She's an excellent leader," Gerky said.
She said Duncan's activities extend beyond her own club. Duncan works with many 4-H members and clubs besides the Chirping Meadowlarks.
Any time a club needs something, whether it's training in record keeping, organizing an event or something else, "she's like, 'I'll come over to your club and help out,'" Gerky said.
Kelly Toldness, who is a leader of the Tumbleweeds 4-H club in Havre, said Duncan's work is a credit to 4-H and a great benefit to the youths in the organization.
"She has done so much work always and forever for 4-H and is always so supportive for kids," Toldness said.
Katon Gerky said he has worked with Duncan many times, including during 4-H camp when he has taken classes from her. He has served as master of ceremonies at the Community Day she organizes.
He said her work and commitment inspire others.
"If she asks you to do something, no one questions it," Gerky said. "It seems like a small task compared to what she does."
Duncan's involvement began when she was 10, the earliest she could join 4-H.
"When I joined, it was just because that's what everybody did," she added.
Her family has a long involvement with the Chirping Meadowlarks. Her mother, Shirley Rudolph, was one of the founding members of the club.
Joining 4-H was a great experience, Duncan said.
"I enjoyed learning new things and we had just wonderful leaders. They kept us involved and moving forward," Duncan said.
After she married Bruce Duncan and moved to his family's farm and ranch - the Duncans started raising sheep in the late 1800s on the land where Tammy and Bruce now farm and ranch - she wasn't involved in 4-H for a few years.
Then organizational leader Louise Suesel, who was also one of the founding members of the Chirping Meadowlarks, died unexpectedly in the late 1980s.
Duncan said no one really wanted to take over Suesel's job, but she stepped in. She has been organizational leader ever since.
That was right before her family started participating. Her son, Mike, now 23, joined the club a few years later. Her other sons, 16-year-old Reece and 13-year-old Brad, are still active in the club.
The club has 16 members drawn from a large area, Duncan said.
The 4-H activities bring many from the region - and the state - together. Duncan said the members form friendships that overflow to other activities. The local 4-H'ers see their friends from other communities at events like basketball games and speech, debate and drama tournaments around the state.
The 4-H activities allow students to expand their interests beyond school-based academic and athletic activities, she said.
"They can try so many different things over a period of four or five years that they're sure to find something that piques their interest or highlights their skills," she said.
Part of 4-H's focus is on building character, leadership and responsibility, and Duncan works to reward that. Toldness said she gives the "I Dare You" award to a local 4-H'er each year, based on criteria like the member's level of community service and leadership. Duncan selects the winner based on her observations, with no application or nomination process.
"It's daring children to be the best they can be," Toldness said.
It's hard to say how Duncan finds as much time to spend on 4-H as she does. She works on her family's farm and ranch, including keeping the books and making a catalog for the annual registered Hereford and Angus bull sale the Duncans hold each spring. She home-schools her sons because they don't want to take the daily bus ride to school, 1 hours each way, and she also teaches piano.
She plays piano at churches and local events, chairs the Sweetgrass Hills Music Teachers Association and is a member of the American Angus Association.
She serves as a chaperone to high school students attending music festivals throughout the state, and operates a bed-breakfast-dinner guest home with her husband.
Duncan downplays winning the Montana 4-H award. There are many people in the state deserving of recognition, she said.
"I just happened to be lucky enough to be in 4-H as a youngster and stay in my community and build on what people who had been there before me laid out," she said. "The 4-H program could not work if there were not hundreds and hundreds of people doing things. Kids with family support and strong leader support can really fly with this."