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Mary Sue Sanders has big impact on 4-H youth

STILLWATER, Okla. (Feb. 16, 2018) – She was a self-proclaimed shy country girl when she joined the Oklahoma 4-H Youth Development Program in Washita County at just 8 years old. Little did she know then that 70 years later, she’d still have strong ties to the largest youth organization in the world, and her influence would affect hundreds of club members along the way.

Mary Sue Sanders has been involved in the Oklahoma 4-H Youth Development Program for 70 years. Her dedication to Oklahoma youth is felt in all 77 counties across the state.

Mary Sue Sanders is something of a legend when it comes to 4-H in Oklahoma, and especially with the State 4-H Ambassador Program. One can’t be mentioned without the other because she was instrumental in getting the program started in Oklahoma following her retirement from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service in 1992.

Sanders has an impressive history with OCES, with a career spanning three decades and her continued support since retirement. She began her career in Cotton County as an assistant home demonstration agent at large, before moving to Kiowa County and then to the State 4-H Office in 1964. About a dozen years later she moved to Oklahoma County and worked with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, then transferred to what was then known as the Central District office.

Following her retirement, she had a vision about starting an Ambassador program in Oklahoma, which stemmed from a couple of 4-H’ers who had attended the National 4-H Ambassador Training at National 4-H Conference.

“This program is a great way to get younger kids involved in leadership roles,” Sanders said. “The Oklahoma 4-H Program is known for helping youth develop their leadership skills and this was another opportunity to meet those goals. The Ambassador Program has three main objectives, including making 4-H more visible in the community, telling the 4-H story and maintaining donor relationships.”

The first group of Ambassadors was selected in 1994 and the rest is history. To date, there are more than 250 Ambassador alumni who have gone on to be successful in their adult lives, including Josh Grundmann, who served as an Ambassador from 2000 to 2003. In fact, Grundmann credits the Ambassador Program for helping make him the man he is today.

“The Ambassador Program had a huge part in building me into an all-purpose leader, including building my confidence in public speaking settings, one-on-one conversations with adults and donors and behind the scenes planning for special events,” Grundmann said. “Being a part of a team with such successful and talented teens was a huge motivation to better myself then and it still is today.”

He said he appreciated the fact Sanders always made sure the Ambassadors’ voices and goals were heard.

“The program’s agenda was determined by the youth involved, not the adults,” he said. “Now, as an advisor, I allow the youth the same freedoms she afforded me. It’s not always an easy road, but our successes are sweeter when the youth are in charge.”

Grundmann, who works for his family-owned pecan business in Shawnee, began serving as an advisor for the Ambassadors in 2014.

“I wanted to give back to a group that has give me such incredible opportunities and experiences,” he said. “Plus, trying to keep up with and work alongside exceptional teenagers must be some sort of fountain of youth.”

Cathy Allen, who has served as the Ambassador advisor on the state level for the past 10 years, said she feels privileged to be able to work with such outstanding youth who are passionate about the 4-H Ambassador Program and carrying out the group’s objectives.

“For many 4-H Ambassadors, serving in this role sharpens their leadership skills, which is a goal of 4-H,” Allen said. “I’ve witnesses first-hand Ambassadors increase their self-confidence, public speaking skills, ability to work with other youth, and, important in today’s society, their writing skills.”

Aside from getting the Ambassador Program started, Sanders’ belief and dedication to the program goes even further. Blayne Arthur, who serves as the executive director of the Oklahoma 4-H Foundation, said Sanders was instrumental in starting the McBroom Sanders Endowment specific to the Ambassadors. Sanders started the endowment with a $10,000 donation and work began in 2004 to reach the goal of $100,000.

It took a few years, but in January this year, the endowment exceeded its goal with $106,000. Funds generated from this endowment go directly to the youth involved in the program.

“This endowed fund goes toward helping support all activities of the Ambassadors, including helping pay for uniforms, the group’s leadership team retreat in the summer, meetings and other activities the Ambassadors and their advisors deem appropriate” Arthur said. “Mary Sue is such a special person and the current Ambassadors on the donor relations committee wanted to do the extra work to help ensure the endowment was reached by her birthday in January, and they more than succeeded. Mary Sue and her husband, Carl, have been so supportive of 4-H for many years and this was one way we could show our appreciation.”

Sanders said she was overwhelmed at the surprise party and thrilled the endowment has reached its goal.

“The fact the Ambassadors planned the whole party made it very special,” she said. “This was a great example of what the Ambassador program does – train youth to do things with guidance. When we got this started, I hoped it would last 20 years, but its still going strong today.”

Allen said even though Sanders has stepped down from her official role with the 4-H Ambassador Program, she’s still very much involved.

“Mary Sue continues to keep her pulse on the Ambassador program. She often serves as a thank you note judge during Ambassador selection day, presents workshops at the Ambassador retreat and keeps up with the Ambassadors through written correspondence,” she said. “She’s truly a blessing to everyone.”

Arthur said endowments such as this are a vital part of the Oklahoma 4-H Youth Development Program.

“It’s tremendously important to the 4-H Foundation to have donors like Mary Sue. They make the 4-H Foundation a possibility,” Arthur said. “We get support from Mary Sue, and that giving spreads to the Ambassadors. When these youth get to a point in life where they can give back, it has been ingrained in them and they become wonderful supporters of 4-H and its mission of ‘Making the Best Better.’”

For more information on the 4-H Foundation or becoming a donor, please contact Arthur at 405-744-5390. Information about the 4-H Ambassador Program can be found here.



Trisha Gedon
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
Oklahoma State University
136 Agriculture North
Stillwater, OK  74078
405-744-3625 (phone)
405-744-5739 (fax)

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078

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