“Say, did I ever tell you the story about…?” And so would begin another exciting story as told by Bill VanSkike. At times there may have been a group of 10 or 12 people gathered around but it seemed Bill was just as content to have even one person listening to his story.
I know I cannot tell a story like Bill could but the content of this one will help document how devoted he was to 4-H and the 4-H buildings located north of Great Bend. Shortly after the first 4-H building was built, I believe Manweiler’s from Hoisington donated a couple of trees to be planted on either side of the driveway at the 4-H grounds. (So if you drive out north today, they would actually be by the lower driveway.) One winter we received a big snow that nearly covered those little trees. Of course, Bill drove out to check on the trees and to clean the snow off so they wouldn’t die. The next day he went out and the rabbits had begun nibbling on the lower branches. Bill called K-State Horticulture Department to see if they had any suggestions on how to save the trees. Bill was told that even if the bottom branches died, he could save that eternal top sprout and those trees would keep growing. So, Bill covered the top part with a plastic bag and tied it tight and went out to check on it every day. Those trees are still alive and the best looking trees on the 4-H grounds today. (I promise it was a much more exciting story when Bill told it.)
In 2005 Kansas 4-H celebrated 100 years of Kansas 4-H. Each county was asked to choose a person from the county who was the best representation of 4-H. Bill VanSkike’s name immediately came to everyone’s mind! The older generation was asked to hand a candle over to the younger generation. We asked Megan VanSkike to accept this gift to the future generations. The presentation was in the 4-H encampment building and each of the 105 counties went to the stage to pass on their candle. As Bill and Megan VanSkike from Barton County were introduced there were cheers from the crowd. You see, Bill was known as the “4-H guy” in many other counties. He had friends across the state and on into other states.
Even though Bill had a lot to say, Bill was also an excellent listener. I’m sure you can think of a time when Bill would ask you a question and then just wait for you to answer? He really did value the opinion of others, both young and old. When I started my job as the 4-H agent in Hays in 1983, Bill was assigned to be my mentor. I made several trips to Great Bend for training. I learned many things, but one thing I particularly remember was that he was way ahead of his time in including young people on the county committees. He really wanted the kids to be in charge and learn leadership “by doing”.
As one of our Barton county 4-H leaders put it, “Every child that Bill met always walked away feeling like the most important person in the world. Bill remembered everything about each child and encouraged them to do great things.” We will always remember his words “You can do it” and “you can always make the best even better”.
Bill will be missed but his legacy lives on. Won’t you work just a little harder to “Make the best just a little bit better”?