A lifetime of lessons
Phyllis MacMaster was recognized by 4-H Ontario for 30 years of volunteering. The award was presented during a Dundas 4-H association meeting in May. Sawyer Helmer photo

WINCHESTER – During 4-H Ontario’s annual meeting in April held this year in Alliston, Dundas County local Phyllis MacMaster was honoured with a 30 Year Volunteer award. While MacMaster was not able to attend the presentation, volunteers from the Dundas 4-H club brought her award back to the county to be presented at the Dundas 4-H association meeting in mid-May.

MacMaster began her 4-H journey as a young girl in Glengarry while being raised on a dairy farm. She joined the dairy and life skills clubs, completing 18 projects while part of the organization from age 12 to 19.

While in 4-H MacMaster had the opportunity to go to the 4-H leadership camp held at the University of Guelph. After seeing the campus and meeting new people, she was inspired to attend post-secondary at the university. Later she got a job with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) as an agriculture representative in New Market. During that position, part of MacMaster’s job was to help with 4-H as OMAFRA was the lead organization at that time.

MacMaster was moved to Halton County in 1984 and became a first-time 4-H leader of a financial management club. Only four years later she arrived in Dundas where she met Mary Fisher; the two began a judging club. “That is my area of interest as a 4-H leader because I’m an official judge with Holstein Canada for dairy cows so I was trying to use some of my skills,” said MacMaster.

MacMaster got her start as a judge through 4-H and said leading a judging club means she can pass on some of her skills to young people. While judging has a lot to do with livestock, it also can be an essential skill in life MacMaster said.

“You use judging everyday. When you go to buy groceries and you’re buying apples or different vegetables, you look a them for different things. That is all developing a keen sense of looking and you’ll use it for the rest of your life,” MacMaster explained. “That’s how we’ve approached this judging and we try to vary from not only dairy or livestock but do fruits and vegetables; and from life skills we’ve judged quilting blocks, posters and pictures. You broaden it out. There are less and less young people living on farms today so you’re trying to give other young people in 4-H positive opportunities.”

MacMaster accredits 4-H with a lot of skills built in her young life. The 4-H motto ‘Learn to do by doing’ means members get the practical experiences that make learning engaging. She said, as a young person, 4-H was great for meeting new people and gaining skills that she has used throughout her personal and professional life.

As a 4-H leader and currently the screening coordinator, MacMaster gets to hear why many volunteers choose to give back. Most volunteers, MacMaster said, say that 4-H had a positive effect on their own lives and they want to be able to do the same for the next generations.

“I’ve really enjoyed watching people develop and become farmers themselves or become leaders in the industry. It’s nice to sit back and think you did something to maybe help them along their way. That’s why I stuck at it,” she said.

Despite the changes over the years, 4-H “has an amazing reputation,” that makes members want to come back to be leaders. As a volunteer for 30 years, MacMaster has had the opportunity to pass on a lot of wisdom and reach many young people. The award for her service is just the cherry on top. She also noted that receiving the award has contributed to her realization of the importance of recognizing the efforts of volunteers. Volunteers don’t expect anything like that she said,  but “I was really honoured.”