Argo was honored during the Sussex County 4-H annual achievement celebration held Sept. 28 at the University of Delaware’s Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown before an audience of approximately 150 4-H family members and supporters.
Joy Sparks Spirit of 4-H Award winners in New Castle and Kent counties will be announced at later 4-H events.
Argo, who retired in April 2013 as Sussex 4-H educator, was surprised as her name was called and she was asked to come to the stage. In attendance to support her grandchildren in 4-H and to present the Friend of 4-H Award to volunteer leader William Campbell, Argo was continuing her career tradition of happily handing out awards to others. Her arrival on stage to accept the honor was met with a standing ovation.
“This is a surprise. I had not a clue about this,” Argo exclaimed. “I have been very, very jealous of all the people who have gone before who have won this. This is a wonderful, wonderful award. I can’t think of anyone finer to follow than Joy Sparks.”
The Joy Sparks Spirit of 4-H Award was established in 2009 in memory of the Delaware 4-H program leader who died in February of that year. The honor recognizes outstanding achievement in individuals who exhibit dedication, enthusiasm and embody 4-H values. The four H’s of the program represent “head, heart, hands and health,” which members and volunteers pledge to dedicate to their club, community and country through leadership, citizenship and the furtherance of life skills and community service.
Argo’s career began at the University of Delaware 23 years ago, and she spent the last 18 as Sussex County 4-H agent.
One of Argo’s signature events was coordinating the annual 4-H Spring Farm Tours at Green Acres Farm, an event that invites area school children to visit Delaware’s largest dairy farm, which is owned and operated by the Hopkins family of Lewes.
Each year, for two days in May, this valuable partnership welcomes between 1,500 and 2,000 youth who embark on discovery and participate in the sounds, smells and textures offered as lessons in an authentic agricultural experience — oftentimes receiving their first introduction to Cooperative Extension and the University.
With the help of Argo’s colleagues at the Carvel center, tens of thousands of young students have been reached through this one event alone during her tenure as 4-H agent.
Argo was recognized for her belief in the value of personal visits, through which she cultivated many strong community relationships throughout her career.
A particular favorite program Argo initiated was Fridays with 4-H, an after school program at La Casita in Georgetown. Every Friday, Argo introduced 4-H curriculum and experiential learning activities. The outreach program impacted hundreds of Latino youth in Sussex County and was the direct result of Argo’s networking and personal touch in her community.
“All who know Mary never fail to mention her tireless work ethic, positive outlook and enthusiastic dedication to make 4-H available to every child in Delaware,” said Mark Manno, Delaware 4-H program leader, as he read from the nomination. “She has never missed an opportunity to shine the spotlight on an accomplishment of a 4-H youth member or adult volunteer.”
Argo joined 4-H at the age of 10, as an inaugural member of the Broadkill Kool Kats 4-H Club, a club founded by her mother, Frances Millman. As an adult, Argo served as the club’s organizational leader for 12 years.
In 1986, Argo was inducted into the prestigious 4-H alumni organization known as the Sussex County 4-H Order of the Link. Two of Argo’s daughters are currently Delaware 4-H leaders, and 10 of her 11 grandchildren are currently enrolled in Delaware 4-H.
Argo was joined on stage by members of Joy Sparks’ family, brother Alex Gooden and niece Lindsay Gooden Hughes, who presented Argo with the award.
Donald Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Chair and director of the Delaware Environmental Institute at UD, was not able to join family members at the ceremony but later said, “Mary richly deserves the 2013 Joy Sparks Spirit of 4-H Award. Her numerous contributions to Delaware 4-H will be long lasting. I wish her the very best.”
Article and photo by Michele Walfred
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