Stephanie Williams basically had no choice but to join 4-H legally when she was old enough.
Williams, 20, of Searcy officially joined the program when she was 5 but was immersed in it from the time she was born, with older siblings and her mother, Ruth Williams, being involved in 4-H while Stephanie was growing up.
“I have two older siblings, and I was at events when I was a baby,” Stephanie Williams said. “Our family is a three-generation 4-H family. My grandma put my mom in it. Grandma was in it. My mom put her kids in it. It just kind of continued.”
Williams was able to achieve all sorts of honors during her time in 4-H in White County, but she recently received two of the biggest honors.
Williams was named to the Arkansas 4-H Hall of Fame during the Arkansas State 4-H O-Rama in June; she also received the Arkansas 4-H Governor’s Award in July.
This year was her third to be nominated for both awards.
“For the Hall of Fame, you are nominated,” she said. “They take the nominees, and I think they narrow it down to four or five people. Last year, I thought I could win it. This year, I thought there was one person I knew who could top me. This year was extremely unexpected. I had been out of 4-H for a year already because I had gone to college. Other people can overshadow you that year.”
Williams joins her mother and sister Meredith Vigneaux in the Hall of Fame.
“It is a big deal,” Williams said. “At the Arkansas 4-H Center, they have the pictures of the Hall of Fame people on the wall. You walk past it and go, ‘Whoa. Those people got to be on the wall.’
“I always strive to be like those people. As I went through, I saw a couple of friends who were inducted. I saw my sister get inducted. You strive to be that person. It’s a pretty big deal.”
Williams described the Arkansas State 4-H Governor’s Award as the golden prize award of Arkansas 4-H.
“It was narrowed down to four people,” she said. “We went to the state Capitol and interviewed with four judges,” adding that she also had to submit a record book of her accomplishments in 4-H.
“It is the person who they feel has contributed the most back to 4-H,” she said. “It was announced by the governor. Later on, we went back to the Capitol and took photos.”
The award was announced at the state O-rama.
Other awards and honors Stephanie has received include Senior Sheep Showmanship, 2015; Senior Beef Showmanship, 2015; Overall Showmanship, 2015; State 4-H Record Book winner, 2014; and state King Arthur Flower winner.
Williams’ sister Meredith is also a Governor’s Award recipient.
“It was totally unexpected,” Ruth Williams said. “If you look at their journey, there have been lasting things. They’ve put an imprint on 4-H that should be lasting forever.”
Stephanie Williams is a 2015 graduate of Harding Academy in Searcy. She attended Arkansas State University-Beebe for two years and is now in nursing school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. During her time at Harding Academy, Williams was involved in several extracurricular activities outside of 4-H.
She played softball and volleyball, ran track and was in chorus and Beta Club.
But she always comes back to 4-H.
“Throughout my entire life, I would never take back 4-H,” she said. “I see the opportunities it has given me, compared to people who have not been in it.
“I have traveled all over the world. I’ve met people who could be contacts for the rest of my life. I’ve been speaking in front of people since I was 5.”
Williams said she recently attended the white-coat ceremony for nursing school, and someone asked her why she seemed so calm onstage.
“They said, ‘You weren’t intimidated by the crowd like everyone else seemed to be,’” she said. “I’ve just done this. I’ve been in front of people.”
Williams added that 4-H has given her the experiences she’s needed to handle things, such as the white-coat ceremony.
“[The 4-H program] has given me lifelong experiences that I’ll have for the rest of my life,” she said. “I would encourage anybody to get into it. Do it, and find something that you love.”
Ruth Williams agrees.
“[The 4-H clubs] just give you all the life experiences that most kids can only think about having,” she said.
While 4-H may have started out as an agriculture program associated with the Cooperative Extension Service, the 4-H organization has grown to be so much more, Stephanie Williams said.
“It is anything and everything you can imagine,” she said. “It you want to get into robotics or you like cooking, you can do that. If you want to still do ag, you can do ag.”
During her junior years of 4-H, Williams gave speeches. In her senior years, she did a technology showcase that won the state O-rama.
“You do something that is going to help someone in the community,” Williams said of the showcase. “I focused on the humane society because I love animals. I made posters and pamphlets for the humane society. We put them all around town to highlight the humane society, that Searcy has one, and people need to adopt or that you could give donations.”
Animals have always been a passion for Williams.
“For me, I’m a big animal person,” she said. “I love animals. I love my horses. I’ve grown up riding horses. We’ve shown cattle and lambs. I showed goats for some people. That is what really drew me to [4-H].”
As she got older, Williams was drawn to barrel racing.
“I started working with horses,” she said. “I didn’t have any horses, so I found friends with horses. We would go to horse shows and rodeos, and I’d borrow horses to use. I’ve done a little bit of everything.”
Williams rode for several trainers.
“I finally found what I liked the best, and it was rodeos,” she said. “We bought a horse and started traveling with friends to rodeos. That is what I’ve stuck with. I’ve done it some in 4-H with horse shows. I’ve also done it outside of 4-H.”
Williams said she still tries to ride as much as she can, despite being in nursing school in Little Rock.
“We’ve been traveling some,” she said. “My boyfriend’s niece has gotten into the horse shows. We’ve been traveling all over the place.”
Williams also competed in the Food Bowl in 2016.
“They only have it at state,” Williams said. “My younger sister, Emma, and another girl and I did food bowl at state. It’s pretty much a quiz bowl about food, food safety and food handling.”
They attended the Western National Roundup in Denver, Colorado.
“At the Western Roundup, they have livestock shows going on,” Williams said. “They have other competitions going on. We didn’t get to ski, but we snow-tubed. We had a little bit of fun while we were in Denver.”
While Williams never held a state 4-H office, she did run for office once.
“That same year, I was named Arkansas State Fair Rodeo Queen,” she said, winning the competition in October 2014. “I don’t think I could have held both at the same time.”
Williams said one of the best things she’s gotten to do in 4-H is travel.
“We got to go on trips,” she said. “Trips are amazing. If I could pinpoint my favorite part of 4-H, we got to go on a trip to Washington, D.C., and that was my favorite part.”
Williams went to Washington about five years ago.
“It was a week-long trip to D.C.,” she said. “We stayed at the National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland. They took us around D.C., and we got to see all the sights and learn about the monuments.”
She said there were 4-H members from all over the country at the conference that year.
“We got to meet 4-H’ers from Hawaii, Puerto Rico, California and Georgia,” she said. “People from all over America [were there]. You make friends from everywhere.”
Ruth Williams said Stephanie also attended the Young America’s Foundation conference in California and visited President Ronald Reagan’s ranch. Ruth also said Stephanie had been to Washington multiple times.
“She had already been on all those trips,” Ruth said. “These kids have never done anything like that. Stephanie was like, ‘I’ve been dong this since I was little.’
“You get to know the new people. It just gives you some incredible life skills that you can’t learn in school.”
Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.