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Rita Lofland, of Greenwood was honored as the Sussex County recipient for the Joy Sparks Spirit of 4-H Award. Lofland was surprised by the recognition which was presented in front of the Sussex 4-H community during their annual achievement event on Sept. 25, 2016 at the University of Delaware Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown.
“It is an honor to be the 2016 recipient,” Lofland said. “I worked with Joy for 13 years and I always respected her knowledge and passion for Delaware 4-H.”
The Joy Sparks Spirit of 4-H Award was established in 2009 in memory of Sparks, the Delaware 4-H program leader who died in February of that year. The honor recognizes outstanding achievement in individuals who exhibit dedication, enthusiasm and embodiment of 4-H values. The four H’s of the program represent “Head, Heart, Hands and Health,” which members and volunteers pledge to dedicate to their club, community and country through leadership, citizenship and the furtherance of life skills and community service.
Lofland, who retired as the Sussex County 4-H program assistant in 2016, has a long relationship with the program. At age eight, she joined as a member of the Peach Blossom 4-H in Kent County where her parents, Bobby and Ruth Ann Messick were club leaders. Both of her parents were recipients of the Joy Sparks Spirit of 4-H Award while they were volunteer leaders. As a 4-H’er, Lofland was active in the fashion revues, foods projects, talent shows, 4-H camps and showed sheep and ponies at the Delaware State Fair.
“Joy and I were in 4-H together in Kent County,” Lofland said, noting they were a few years apart and in different clubs. “Her brother Alex Gooden and I were in the same year together as Kent County 4-H’ers.”
In 1987, Lofland became a volunteer 4-H leader when her two children joined their local club, the Greenwood Hi-Flyers. Her dedication to 4-H was recognized by Sussex County 4-H agent Mary Argo (also a 2013 honoree) and Argo hired Lofland in 1996 for what would be a 20-year career as a part-time 4-H program assistant at the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension.
“Rita has been a valuable asset to Sussex County 4-H,” said Jill Jackson, Sussex County 4-H educator. “When I joined 4-H at eight years old, Rita was my club leader and was always looking for ways to promote 4-H values to our club members. She always goes above and beyond to help club members and leaders,” Jackson continued, adding, “We are blessed to have wonderful leaders such as Rita who put their time and talents into helping our members ‘Make the Best Better’!”
Lofland contributions to 4-H were innumerable. She helped put together the monthly newsletter, managed the county 4-H bookkeeping, planned events, worked with volunteers and promoted many 4-H project areas, in particular anything to do with horses. The 4-H Horse Show, state judging contests at the Delaware State Fair and organizing Breyer Horse shows, Breyer paint nights, and working with youth on numerous horse bowl teams.
Her family’s love of horses led Rita and her husband Donnie to chaperone the 1st Delaware Appaloosa youth team and attended the national show in Oklahoma in 1998. The Loflands continue to own two Appaloosa horses along with four miniature pet donkeys.
Although her retirement from 4-H administrative work concluded in 2016, Lofland remains an active 4-H leader of the East Coast Riding Club.
While Lofland received many formal accolades over the years, including the National Association of Extension 4-H Agent’s Award for support staff, and the Salute to Excellence Lifetime Volunteer Award for Sussex County, the Joy Sparks Spirit of 4-H is especially significant to Lofland and her family.
“My parents both received this award during their lifetime. I am going to place mine right in the middle of theirs,” Lofland said. “This is very special to me.”
Article & photo by Michele Walfred