• Being inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame, the nation’s top award, is Mitchell County’s Sharon Runion Rowland, third from left. Participating in the induction were, from left, National Association of Extension 4-H Agents Past President Shawn Tiede; Senior Vice President representing National 4-H Council Jill Bramble; Rowland; and Dr. Caroline Cincoti, representing 4-H National Headquarters/National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Photo submitted)
    Being inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame, the nation’s top award, is Mitchell County’s Sharon Runion Rowland, third from left. Participating in the induction were, from left, National Association of Extension 4-H Agents Past President Shawn Tiede; Senior Vice President representing National 4-H Council Jill Bramble; Rowland; and Dr. Caroline Cincoti, representing 4-H National Headquarters/National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Photo submitted)

Rowland, others recall her path to 4-H Hall of Fame

Mitchell News-Journal

Sharon Runion Rowland, of Bakersville, formerly of Raleigh, was inducted Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, into the National 4-H Hall of Fame for her lifetime of achievements and contributions to 4-H. She is the 13th North Carolinian only recognized as a national laureate.

Retired NC State University Associate Vice Chancellor and former State 4-H Leader Dr. Mike Davis, who was inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame in 2011, said at the induction ceremony, “So happy to be able to attend the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony for Sharon Rowland, who has exhibited excellence at all levels of the Cooperative Extension and 4-H System. A true land grant success story and great colleague and friend.” 

Following her success in Union County as a 4-H Agent and her earlier achievements as a Mitchell County 4-H’er, Rowland became one of the nation’s premiere curriculum developers for youth after joining the state 4-H staff in North Carolina in 1983. 

Among her skillsets, she was especially adept at designing appropriate materials to be delivered to boys and girls of different ages and experiences. This skill endeared her to other agents as their role model, an exceptional colleague whose personal commitment to lifelong learning and sustained success was visible in her devotion to duty and others. 

Her depth of experience in levels of subject matter and in recognizing youth with awards made it natural she would turn to resource development, both for existing awards programs and for expanding the youth development mission in North Carolina and nationwide.

“This incredible woman supported me through my entire career as a 4-Her and into adulthood,” said La’Meshia Le Kaminski, a former 4-H’er under Rowland’s guidance. “Ms. Sharon Runion Rowland offered me my first college internship and believed in me from the beginning. She has a gift for working with youth and adults alike. Her dedication, kindness, attention to detail, leadership as a powerhouse and her belief in the capabilities of youth is everything I’ve attempted to take into my work as an educator and public servant. She has been a hero of mine for a long time, and I am just so overwhelmed with joy at this news.”

Rowland succeeded in both fundraising and friend-raising because of her passion for Extension and her solid relationships. She shared a deep personal sense of 4-H values and Extension’s role in her development with donors, who, in turn, supported her in building other resourceful and sustaining relationships. As a result, children’s lives and horizons have been forever transformed through 4-H. She is the best example of her legacy. In fact, during her acceptance speech, Rowland talked about passion and legacy and encouraged the audience and America’s 4-H family to “help create 4-H passions that lead individuals, alums, staff and the corporate world to celebrate their passions by expanding the 4-H clover.”

Rowland grew up in 4-H participating in presentations, going to camps and building her leadership skills and being named Mitchell County’s first national 4-H winner, for her cumulative record in Leadership. As State 4-H Vice President in 1974-75, she performed in a bicentennial pageant about 4-H history. In her first job after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1976, she began through her work as a 4-H Agent cultivating Union County youth who won district, state, regional and national awards, and became blue-ribbon citizens. Between 1977 and 1983, 15 4-H’ers from Union County were recognized as national project winners and won college scholarships at National 4-H Congress; another 20 were state winners and delegates to the congress. This was a great honor through a very competitive process in at the national levels and North Carolina 4-H. A decade later, when that annual historical event ceased, Rowland was in the core Extension group that worked together to seek and receive new funding for the national recognition and celebration of 4-H youth in a new venue, conducting a campaign that raised more than $1 million for North Carolina 4-H awards.

She served as the national Principal Investigator of a major, multiyear CYFAR grant while a State 4-H Specialist. She parlayed her extensive 4-H knowledge and network into a 13-year career as the lead fundraiser for the NC 4-H Development Fund and the Cooperative Extension Foundation, generating more than $12 million for support of 4-H and Extension facilities, annual program support, scholarship program endowments, and personnel training and support. 

Her early recognition as a state officer, camp counselor, national project winner and Honor Club member were promises of more to come. But as Rowland says, “It was never about me.”  

Among other seeds Rowland planted that will continue to grow are the North Carolina 4-H History and Learning Center at Millstone 4-H Camp and thousands of youth who have matured into parents and grandparents of 4-H’ers. This museum was created to preserve the heritage and history of America’s largest “learn by doing” youth program and is a reality because of Rowland’s passion, knowledge and leadership.

“My first year as a 4-H Club member, we learned how to address an envelope, took a tour of our community and made an electric switch using the 4-H Discovery curriculum Ms. Sharon wrote,” said Sally Dixon. “I went to college because of a scholarship that existed due to the relationships Ms. Sharon built for many of the 4-H endowments we are blessed to have today. And, I eat so well at the Honor Club Reception every year at Congress because Ms. Sharon and her friends put all that food together.

Always remember that in 4-H, someone laid the groundwork before you so you could lead after them.”

Rowland’s many signature efforts include her work to raise funds to help build the Eastern 4-H Environmental Education Conference Center and 4-H camp, increasing individual giving in addition to her humanitarian work with Hurricane Katrina. 

Rowland co-chaired the effort to establish the first certified Child Care Center on campus at NC State University. She led the feasibility study, advocated with the administration, directed program and financial planning, staffing, implementation and subsequent evaluation of this significant accomplishment that served the families of faculty and staff.

“As a 4-H Volunteer Leader, Sharon Runion Rowland encouraged me to Make My Best Better,” said Linda Semon. “Thank you, Sharon, for all you have done through the years to help shape my wonderful career with Cooperative Extension and the impact you made on so many 4-H youths.”

Throughout her years of service, Rowland and her husband, Steve, have supported the NC Cooperative Extension Foundation, the NC 4-H Development Fund and the NC Family and Consumer Science Foundation, all of which provide leadership for programs at state and county levels. She and Steve have established the “Steve and Sharon Runion Rowland 4-H Leadership and Citizenship Endowment,” which provides funding for Citizenship or Leadership trips to national 4-H events, an opportunity that ties back to her days as Union County 4-H Agent. They have also established an endowment that supports the Mitchell County 4-H Program with an internship fund, and along with her family, have established the Robert and Helen Runion 4-H Scholarship Endowment.

Throughout her career, no matter where she was located or in what department she was working, Rowland always supported Mitchell County 4-H, and was looking out for the programs’ best interests. She continues to support Mitchell County 4-H in her retirement by serving as a volunteer, club leader and in any other capacity she can to see the program she grew up in being successful. She and her sister, Mary Runion Pyatte, are co-leaders of the Creative Clovers 4-H Cloverbuds (ages 5-to-8 years old) and the Creative Clovers Junior 4-H Club (ages 9-to-12 years old). She and Steve also co-led the Raleigh Rangers 4-H Club in Raleigh for 10 years. 

“My greatest joy is in watching today’s 4-H’ers work hard and achieve excellence in all they do, Rowland said. “Whether they win a top award or a white ribbon, the important thing is for our 4-H’ers to develop the leadership, citizenship and skills they will need throughout life.”

Rowland has received many awards for her dedication to the 4-H program. She has received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, presented by NC Secretary of State, the Honorable Elaine F. Marshall. The Governor’s office gives the Order of the Long Leaf Pine to individuals who have a proven record of extraordinary service to the state. Rowland received the Gordon P. Allen Award for Public Service in 2011 for her creation of Camp Challenge at Sertoma 4-H Center. 


Tribute to Leaders

Rowland recognizes the National 4-H Hall of Fame induction is in large part to those adults who helped her along the way. 

She pays tribute to Jane Cook, Waightstill Avery, Ed Terrell, Denise Baker, her 4-H agents and to her first 4-H leaders, Jackie Garden and Charles Silver, all in Mitchell County. 

Throughout her 4-H member career and her professional career, many volunteers and staff also helped her grow. Among them are Chet Black, Cleo Edwards, Dr. Dalton Proctor, Dr. Ed Yancey, Dr. Hugh Liner, Dr. Elizabeth Meldau, Dr. Donald Stormer, who recruited her to work for the state program, Dr. Mike Davis, who asked her to consider a career change to the NC 4-H Development Fund executive director position, Dr. Joe Zublena, Dr. Jon Ort, Dr. Mike Yoder, Dr. Jim Clark, Keith Oakley, and many other colleagues and friends from across the state and nation. 

“It’s not about me,” Rowland reiterated. “I share this induction with 4-H’ers, volunteers, agents, state staff, colleagues and associates. I am so grateful my grandfather was the first 4-H agent in three western North Carolina counties and our entire family has supported me throughout this journey of life. God has richly blessed me.”

The MItchell News

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