COLLEGE STATION — In 1929, Lorene Russell Ludwig had just turned 17 and was making history in Dallas County as the first 4-H Gold Star Award recipient in Texas. The skills she had learned through 4-H would help equip her to survive the Great Depression and World War II.
“All of the things we did in 4-H I enjoyed because it was the way we lived,” said Ludwig, who now lives in New Braunfels. “We canned all sorts of things that we raised on the farm. We used pressure cookers and sealers to seal cans.”
As one of the first to join the 4-H club for girls, formerly known as Tomato Clubs, Ludwig also had an opportunity to go to the state fair.
“I was one of the first ones to go to the state fair in Dallas, and we stayed an entire week,” she said. “We went to all sorts of exhibits programs, entertainment and recognitions. We were living on the state fairground and I don’t imagine they are doing any of that any more.”
Ludwig does not remember much about the day she received the Gold Star Award, but has kept the green 4-H pin with the gold star attached for 67 years. Recently, she passed it on to her 17-year-old granddaughter, Devin Cobb, who won the 4-H Gold Star Award in Comal County last year.
“The Gold Star Award is the highest county achievement award given to a 4-H member,” said Dr. Nelson Jacob, 4-H youth and development specialist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. “Youth who receive it must have exhibited leadership skills by serving as a 4-H officer, committee chair person or leader in an activity or project.”
Award recipients also must have participated in one or more community service activities, he said. This includes working with or counseling junior 4-H members, helping with community projects and motivating other members through demonstrations, projects or exhibits.
When Ludwig was growing up in the small community of Wheatland, just about everyone was in 4-H.
“The girls from around where I lived were in 4-H,” she said. “I get out old pictures to look at and can remember the neighbors I grew up with, but have forgotten some of the others.”
Ludwig was a woman ahead of her time. She was very independent, chose to attend college, started a career and married at the age of 32.
“I went to the College of Industrial Arts in Denton. It is now Texas Woman’s University and is open to both males and females,” she said. “I majored in home economics and went three years. That was during the depression time so I stayed out for a while and went back to get my degree. I was elected to teach in Dallas County and then I went to Groesbeck.”
In January 1941, she was employed as the first home demonstration agent — family and consumer sciences agent — in Comal County. Later that year she helped families adjust to the war and taught them how to survive on a limited amount of food.
“It was December following that we were plunged into World War II,” she remembered. “We gave demonstrations on saving flour, saving sugar, cooking with lesser things. You took up canning because food was rationed. You learned to cook with very little.”
Ludwig also organized women’s clubs called Extension Homemakers Clubs in Gruene, Mission Valley, Spring Branch and Freiheit communities.
“I was in this German community and I started with women’s clubs before I started the girls club,” she said. “Today, you probably start with the girls and branch into the women’s.” Also, a mattress program was set up to help low-income families, Ludwig said. A group of homemakers would meet at the old fairgrounds to make mattresses whenever necessary.
What Ludwig enjoyed most about being a home demonstration agent was “associating with the people.
“I remember in Spring Branch, it was butchering time,” she said. “I went in there in the kitchen, and I cooked the meal while the two families were outside working. I really did just enter into the life of the community and did what needed to be done.”
Although Ludwig served as a home demonstration agent for only four years, she remained a part of the community and never forgot her 4-H roots. From time to time, she travels to Dallas to visit an old 4-H club friend, Ethel R. Smith, to talk about the old days.