SIDNEY — At 86 years old, Barbara Allen Ditmer has deep roots in the Shelby County farming community and has just retired her position as a Shelby County 4-H adviser after over 60 years, due to health reasons. Barb’s last official year as an adviser was 2020.
Barb has been instrumental in shaping Shelby County 4-H clubs and teaching members important life skills since the 1950’s. In 1991, Barb was inducted into the Ohio 4-H Hall of Fame. The short bio next to her induction photo describes her as, “A woman of many talents.” Her son Eric helped make a video, with her, “to help train potential livestock interviewers.” Ditmer also served as chairperson of the State 4-H Advisory Committee in 1984.
When she was a 10-year-old, Barb joined the Happy Stitchers 4-H Club in Anna. Her husband, Marvin Ditmer, joined Starting Farmers 4-H Club in Hardin at the same time. The two stayed active in 4-H even when Marvin was in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska, during 1955 and 1956. 4-H has a 10-year commitment and both of them still had time left so they continued to fill out project books and send them back to Shelby County. They would also regularly correspond with Shelby County 4-H members on a variety of 4-H ideas and topics.
A few years after they returned to Shelby County from Alaska, Barb became a 4-H adviser and started the 4-H Club Starting Farmeretts as an alternative to the Starting Farmers 4-H Club because girls were not allowed to join the boys only 4-H Club. Barb said Starting Farmeretts was a popular success and eventually the Starting Farmers held a vote that made their club open to women.
Barb was a leader that did not just accept the status quo in 4-H. One of her crowning achievements was the creation of the Alpha 4-H Club, in 1989. It was a gardening club which grew its vegetables in gardens next to the Alpha Center. The children in the club came from underprivileged homes that also made use of Alpha Center resources.
Barb had the Alpha 4-H Club members specialize in growing zucchini because there are so many recipes they can be used in. The soil next to the Alpha Center was not conducive to growing a garden so Barb had mounds of dirt brought in for the kids to use. One year, someone stole two mounds of dirt and the Alpha 4-H Club members using the two stolen dirt mounds had to try and explain to the 4-H judges that year why they didn’t have any produce to show them.
4-H requires members to do community service projects so Barb had her Alpha Center 4-H Club fill and maintain flower boxes that bordered the edges of the Courtsquare.
Besides teaching 4-H members how to make things grow and to respect the community, Barb stressed the importance of children learning how to express themselves clearly and appropriately. Barb saw this a life skill important to many aspects of life such as interviewing for a job. Barb is quoted in her induction bio as saying “I see more and more how much 4-H is needed. 4-H is a positive activity. It keeps youngsters busy so that they don’t have time for negative things.”
It should come as no surprise that Barb flourished in 4-H when looking at her family history. She grew up on a Dairy farm located on what is now Arrowhead Drive.
Barb’s family in the area can be traced back to her great-great-grandpa Ditmer was born into a family that has been an integral part of Shelby County for generations. She took everything she learned on the farm and in 4-H and taught it to generations of local kids for over 60 years through 4-H.