As one of the agency’s longest participating volunteers, June Helwig’s volunteer work with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has impacted the lives of women and youth in Tom Green County for over 70 years.
Helwig’s involvement with the Texas Extension Education Association, EEA, and Texas 4-H clubs, organizing and administering educational programs for members through hands-on learning, has allowed their members to learn life skills such as public speaking as well as learning about health and wellness.
Even today at 90 years old, Helwig is serving as the vice president of the Tom Green EEA Veribest Club. She began her lifetime of service supporting agency home demonstration clubs in the early 1950s. Since then, she has continued to dedicate her time and efforts to networking with other AgriLife Extension programs, researching and customizing opportunities for women and youth to continue their education.
Courtney Redman, AgriLife Extension agent, Tom Green County, who has worked with Helwig for five years, said Helwig has organized, facilitated and presented educational programs for many years and is still a go-getter.
“She’s always volunteering,” Redman said. “If there is something that needs to get done, she’s going to volunteer. I’m fortunate to have one of those ladies who says, ‘You know what, I’ll take it on.’”
Longtime Veribest EEA member Ruby Matschek said Helwig constantly steps up to volunteer in the club.
“For our club, she has probably held every office,” Matschek said. “If nobody else will take it, she will. She’s done our programs for years, and she does such a good job of it.”
Each year, Helwig develops programs that the Veribest club customizes from the state education programs, which range from home improvement and educational tours to health and wellness activities.
“The members vote on the programs, and she actually gets the speakers, and she signs them up,” Redman said.
Demonstrating a life of service
In 1951, after a family tragedy and amid the 1950s Texas drought, Helwig joined a home demonstration club in Mereta in search of support and resources. The EEA’s history with home demonstration work began with the appointment of the first agent, Edna Westbrook Trigg in 1912.
The organization remains committed to providing opportunities for continuing education for women. Through the years, the home demonstration county agents and members have taught lessons and honed skills directly tied to the agriculture community—from gardening and sewing to home improvement.
“The home demonstration club would teach us different methods of saving the crops that we were growing,” Helwig said.
While running a household and raising a family, she played an integral part in the family cotton farm’s success alongside her late husband, Billy Joe Helwig. Helwig said she did it all, from delivering supplies to tending livestock, building fences and operating farm machinery.
“I loved agriculture, and I still do,” she said.
Her dedication, both on the farm and to the home demonstration club, propelled the Helwig family into a new type of agricultural involvement: 4-H clubs. Through the home demonstration agents, Helwig said she learned what young people across the county were doing. Soon after, her family began raising cattle as members of AgriLife Extension’s Runnels County 4-H program.
“4-H was a foundation for my family,” she said.
Connecting with youth to promote involvement, leadership
While her children participated in agricultural projects, Helwig sought new opportunities to give back to the 4-H club.
Her first introduction to 4-H was a thick book filled with different projects for youth given to her by a county agent. But her curiosity and desire to connect youth with more fitting projects inspired her to search out other networks and resources. She reached out to other state programs to improve the club project book she inherited, including writing to 4-H programs in Mississippi and Michigan and asking them to send her their state project books to review.
“I had read about some of their projects, so I was always curious to find something that would meet some child’s need,” she said. “The county agents were always really appreciative when I would find things that would interest all the children.”
For children with limited access to project resources or who did not have an agricultural upbringing, Helwig found and tailored niche projects.
Her daughter, Bonnie Helwig Huckabee ‘81, said her mother’s efforts in garnering youth involvement in 4-H were new and trendsetting for the time.
“No matter what it was; if it was dog care and training, if it was entomology, if it was computers – when computers were new – she found a niche for that child in 4-H, even if they didn’t come from a farm,” Huckabee said.
Helwig also began devoting her time and efforts to method demonstrations, now referred to as education presentation projects – planned presentations where one or more 4-H members teach their peers about a lesson or activity. The presentations required students to research the subject matter, outline information, create visual aids and practice public speaking.
Huckabee said her mother’s passion for method demonstration projects was reflected in the club’s involvement.
“She was always researching topics that students could do method demonstrations or a presentation on,” Huckabee said. “Our club, our little club of 50 students, might have had 20 teams doing method demonstrations.”
Her son, Bill Helwig ‘76, the current Yoakum County Criminal District Attorney, said his mother coached dozens of students who competed and won local competitions both while her own children were club members and long after they had graduated.
“When 4-H came along, it was a blessing and a life-altering event where we were introduced to other educators,” he said.
Helwig family’s ongoing connection to Texas A&M
Both of Helwig’s children credit their involvement with 4-H and the club’s agricultural leadership to their introduction to Texas A&M University.
Bill Helwig said the decision to pursue an education at the land-grant university happened through “osmosis” because the AgriLife Extension agents the Helwig family learned from were Texas A&M graduates.
“I really thought about this, because it has impacted our whole life,” he said. “We admired the people that we were fortunate to be around. Not intentionally, but they shaped and molded and directed us. That, I cannot ever say enough about…the role of AgriLife Extension in providing us with incredible educators and role models.”
Huckabee graduated from the college in 1981 with an undergraduate degree in agricultural journalism and pursued a career in education as a teacher.
Both of Helwig’s children continued the tradition of 4-H participation. Huckabee said while her children were active in 4-H, she became involved as a club leader and assisted with at-risk youth, just like her mother.
“That’s mother’s example to us,” she said.
Leaving a legacy of learning for youth and adults
Helwig never stopped pursuing passion projects geared toward education for women and youth, so her service with county 4-H and EEA clubs continued to impact the next generations.
“A lot of times when people become empty-nesters they quit participating,” her son said. “Mom never has.”
Helwig continued to coach 4-H students for method demonstration projects for many years. During one of those years, she helped approximately 12 teams participate in State 4-H Roundup competitions.
Despite sometimes having difficult socioeconomic backgrounds and hardships, the children Helwig coached through method demonstration projects continued to be leaders beyond their 4-H careers.
“As I got older, I saw these children who had been leaders in the club, and saw how wonderful they turned out,” Helwig said.
Huckabee said often it was her mother’s influence as a community member that paved the way for prosperous opportunities for youth.
“Because of her leadership, there were several students in our community who got college scholarships and who won trips to national meetings through 4-H,” Huckabee said.
With her fervent curiosity, she also sought out other trades like carpentry and sewing so students could learn from other skilled women in the community.
“One of our EEA members was a carpenter, and she had classes for our 4-H club children at Veribest,” Helwig said. “I believe they built little boxes to carry your tools in, a carpenter’s box.”
But it wasn’t just youth who benefitted from Helwig’s tenacity and contributions to learning. Helwig continues to invest in both women and youth in her community through educational opportunities. Huckabee said her mother’s dedication throughout the years has had an impact on numerous people in their community.
“That’s been the life-long message, that you invest in the generation below you: share, learn, love,” Huckabee said. “Do what you need to do to invest in those children.”
As for Helwig, the 90-year-old vice president is currently scheduled to present the “Thanks For the Memories” state program, an educational presentation connecting health and nutrition to memory and aging in May at the AgriLife Extension office in Tom Green County.
“I’ve been able to fulfill a wonderful life, and I look forward to the future with great anticipation for anything that comes my way,” Helwig said.