4-H Trailblazer Honored

Thearon McKinney pictured with his family

Thearon McKinney (on the right, with his family) served North Carolina 4-H for 35 years. He was recently inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame.

North Carolina’s Thearon McKinney was among 16 people nationwide inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame during a special ceremony held Friday Oct. 2 at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

The laureates are selected because of their significant contributions to 4-H, a youth development organization that serves over 6 million young people in the United States.

As Jeannette Rea Keywood, chair of the Hall of Fame, explained, “These individuals have touched the lives of many people, from 4-H staff and colleagues to thousands of 4-H volunteers and members throughout the nation.”

Dr. McKinney is … the ultimate team player … willing and able to reach out to the smallest child (and) across the table to develop all youth-serving professionals.

McKinney served NC State University’s 4-H Youth Development Program for 35 years. He came to the university in 1977 to guide training programs for 4-H volunteers, and he retired in 2012 as professor and associate state 4-H program leader. For several years, he served as interim state 4-H leader.

McKinney’s original position with NC State was the first in the nation to focus full-time on advancing the work of 4-H youth development volunteers. Under his leadership, tens of thousands of volunteers were trained and the North Carolina 4-H Volunteers Association was formed. The association continues today as a self-sustaining professional development organization.

He teamed with other specialists to introduce the Teens Reaching Youth curriculum delivery system into the mainstream of 4-H nationally, and in conjunction with the state High School Athletic Association, he led the highly successful “Peers Empowering Peers” program to connect student athletes as peer leaders in delivering educational programs related to key issues such as bullying, substance abuse prevention, teen pregnancy prevention, and smoking cessation.

Later in his career, he became a national leader as one of the first full-time state 4-H marketing specialists, celebrating 4-H’s impact on the lives of young people nationwide. He once shared that “if 4-H did not exist, all the research we know about child development, youth/adult partnerships, social systems theory, and community development would dictate that we form an organization just like 4-H.”

In her nomination of McKinney to the Hall of Fame, NC State 4-H Specialist Shannon McCollum noted, “Dr. McKinney is regarded by his peers and administrators as the ultimate team player who is willing and able to reach out to the smallest child, across the table to develop all youth-serving professionals, and connect with administrators about effective youth development policy.”

4-H and NC State Extension are hard at work in communities across North Carolina.

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