The Slipke family of rural Netawaka — shown from left, Phyllis, Brooke, April and Alan — are active with the North Jackson Jets 4-H club. (Photo by Brian Sanders)

Slipkes make 4-H a family tradition

Making 4-H a family tradition has been a priority from the get-go, say Alan and Phyllis Slipke of rural Netawaka, whose daughters, Brooke and April, are keeping that tradition alive.

“Both of my parents were in 4-H,” said Phyllis Slipke, who is starting her eighth year as a club leader with the North Jackson Jets. “My grandma was a club leader for I-don’t-know-how-many years. So I wanted the girls to at least have that experience.”

As 4-H begins its new year this month, Brooke, a sophomore at Jackson Heights High School, is starting her ninth year in the program, while April, a seventh-grader at Jackson Heights Middle School, is starting her seventh. Both girls say they are enjoying keeping that tradition moving forward in the Slipke family.

“When I grow up and have my own family, I hope my own kids are in 4-H,” Brooke said. “I want to help other kids in 4-H and be a part of it until the day I die. It’s made such an impact on my life that I want to help make that kind of an impact oni others.”

Both Alan and Phyllis were raised in a rural atmosphere — Alan in New Almelo, an unincorporated town in southwestern Norton County that he said “makes Netawaka look big,” and Phyllis in Marion County, having been born and raised in Hillsboro. But whereas Phyllis had the 4-H experience growing up, Alan didn’t.

“My older siblings were involved in 4-H,” he said. “But by the time I came around, there weren’t enough kids to have a 4-H program where I was.”

Phyllis, on the other hand, was a member of the South Cottonwood 4-H club for nine years and was involved with swine, bucket calf and visual arts projects, noting that she won a few awards for her work with swine.

Eventually, their paths crossed, and they were living in Topeka at the time they were married in 2003, where Alan, while working for Payless Shoe Source, heard that the 80-acre plot south of Netawaka that the Slipke family would eventually call home had come up for sale.

“We came up here the day we got back from our honeymoon, looked at the land and ended up buying it at an auction a week later,” he said.

“We both grew up on a farm,” Phyllis added, “and we both knew we wanted to get back out into the country.”

Five years later, in 2008, Brooke was born, followed by April two years later. When Brooke was old enough to get involved in 4-H, Phyllis took her to her first club meeting, at a time when North Jackson Jets was, as Brooke put it, “a very small club.”

“I was the only elementary school kid. The rest of them were high-schoolers and middle-schoolers,” Brooke said. “But I thought, ‘I kind of like it.’”

Two years after Brooke’s entry into 4-H, April joined the Jets, which had grown significantly by that time.

“I joined as soon as I could, because I was sort of involved when Brooke was in it,” April said. “She convinced me to join.”

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