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C.J. Gauger... A True 4-H Icon

On March 6, 2014, we celebrate the 100th birthday of a true 4-H icon, C.J. Gauger.

C.J. Gauger was born in Giard, Iowa on March 6, 1914. Giard was a wide spot in the road in Clayton County. He had a sister, Marie, who was 10 years older and a brother, William, who was 1 ½ years older.  C.J. and his siblings have all lived long lives. Marie died at 109 and William was 93. His parents were Albert, a Methodist minister, and Lydia. 

The family was living in Holstein in 1931 when Gauger graduated from high school. He said he didn’t do all that well in school, that he was ranked 13th out of 27 in his class. The day after graduation, the bank in Holstein went bankrupt. These were the depression days. 

After graduating, Gauger went to Rudd, Iowa, to live with his father’s sister and her husband, Martha and Ed. He called Rudd “home” for 4 years and he said in the years he was there, he received his real education through participating in 4-H. He was “allowed” to be in 4-H because he could keep a dairy heifer at his aunt and uncle’s farm. Gauger credits his 4-H experience with pointing him toward his career. 

The following was written by C.J. several years ago as he recalled his own participation in 4-H:

Since the spring of 1931, 4-H has been a constantly growing influence in my life.  I was a town boy interested in farm life (especially in horses) who had worked for relatives in Floyd County, Iowa, each of five summers before that.  I had developed much interest in dairy cows and negotiated the purchase of a purebred Jersey calf from my cousin, a Jersey breeder, as partial payment of a summer’s work on his and his father’s farm.  Having done that, it was a short step into 4-H.  Except I was 17, a graduate from high school, and it was the early stage of the great depression.  College didn’t appear in my immediate future, if ever, so I chose to work as a farm hand for my uncle and to join 4-H:  a charter member of the Rudd Rustlers in Floyd County, Iowa.
I had my choice of the heifers.  One was a nice appearing animal, growing nicely; the other a rather scrawny undersized one but reasonably attractive.  But I chose the first and she made the club tour and show, fair, Dairy Cattle Congress, club meeting, etc.   It was a good experience except for one thing.  Lady Finance was a non-breeder.   Ivan offered to replace her with the other one which we named Queen.   That she was… a truly beautiful yearling.  And Queen she was … at the top of her class at the Four County Fair in Nashua.  At Dairy Cattle Congress, she only placed second.  I could also add dairy and livestock judging, dairy and horse projects as well as what might be regarded as junior leadership the final year.  I helped leaders of clubs both in Des Moines County and Keokuk County as well as informal ties also in Floyd County. 
I experienced 4-H as member, albeit a somewhat atypical one, as a volunteer leader, as a parent, with a number of campers and campus 4-H during college and as an extension professional (county, state and national levels). 
Next to family, unquestionably 4-H has had the most consistent and significant impact in my life.  More accurately, perhaps we should view 4-H as my extended family.  And I view my work with 4-H as a “calling” no less so than if I had been a member of the clergy.

C.J. Gauger said he clearly recalls walking between Holstein and Ida Grove in February of 1933 and deciding that he wanted to go to Iowa State College. It took him two years to get the money together to go, but he started to Iowa State in January of 1935. In his first 10 days, he discovered a love of learning. He decided to work toward a degree in Vocational Agriculture.  At the end of his freshman year, he pledged FarmHouse Fraternity.  He had been asked earlier, but he just couldn’t afford it. He was working several jobs to pay for his education, room and board.

In spite of his financial needs and multiple jobs during college, Gauger received several scholastic honors:  Phi Kappa Phi, Gamma Sigma Delta, Alpha Zeta and Cardinal Key.  He graduated from Iowa State College in 1939 and accepted a teaching position in Mediapolis.  He continued to court Dorothy and they were married after his first year of teaching in the formal gardens in Ames:  August 23, 1940. Gauger taught for an additional year in Mediapolis before taking a teaching position in Sigourney. 

While in Sigourney, the football coach coaxed C.J. into helping coach the football players because they needed to get in good physical condition in case they had to go to war.  During the 1942-43 school year, the football coach left and he wanted Gauger to take over the program.  The superintendent also asked him to coach the team. When the seniors on the team begged him to take it, he finally consented so for the last half of the season, Gauger was the football coach as well as the vocational agriculture instructor.  They didn’t lose any games while he was coaching!

Because of WWII, Gauger started investigating a Naval commission. His superintendent at Sigourney encouraged him to go to Des Moines and check it out. Ultimately, he decided on a voluntary induction into the Army in 1943 and was sent for Aviation Engineer training at March Field in southern California. Dorothy, his wife, joined him there. Then, the whole unit was sent to Spokane, Washington. C.J. and Dorothy lived off base in Washington as well. From Spokane, Gauger shipped out to Okinawa. He spent about 7 months on Ieshima and another 7 months on Okinawa, living in tents during both summer and winter months. As a NCO, he was a duty clerk: scheduling supplies and manpower for building airfields, tracking battalion service functions and the like. While he was waiting to come home, he served for roughly 6 months as the “Dean of Extension” at the University of Okinawa, helping equip soldiers for return to civilian life. These things touched Gauger deeply because his strongest points of concern were for those in compromised circumstances where he could help bring about a positive outcome.

Gauger was shipped back to San Francisco in April, 1945 and discharged. He commented that the Golden Gate Bridge was a wonderful site to behold from the ocean side, knowing that you were coming home. He looked forward to being reunited with Dorothy and they looked forward to having children together.

Upon arriving home, Gauger thought he might work for the Soil Conservation Service, but found that there weren’t any positions available. A teaching position became available in Charles City, so he took another job teaching vocational agriculture. After his military service, he found that he just wasn’t as comfortable in the classroom anymore so he only taught in Charles City for a year. While he was there, he was asked to apply for a position with Iowa State as the County Extension Director in Floyd County.  From Charles City, he moved to Story County as the Extension Director.  Gauger received his Master’s in Education in 1954. In 1955, he accepted a position as District Supervisor in Southwest Iowa, where he worked for 4 years.

C.J. Gauger was Iowa State 4-H leader from 1959-1979. In Iowa, he brought the boy’s and girl’s 4-H programs together. Gauger also had a national impact as chair of a national committee that took 4-H in a life skills direction. Whether at the county, state, or national level, he believed in listening to youth and involving them in shaping their 4-H program. He said the theme of his work, and the genius of 4-H, was that 4-H is a way for people to grow and develop. 

As a byproduct of combining the boys’ and girls’ programs, Gauger saw a higher level of senior 4-H member participation in Iowa than in any other state in the north central region.  Older youth stayed involved in 4-H because activities were designed for them, such as state council. Gauger described his vision for state council as a “two-way flow.”  The youth should not only carry ideas from the state office out into the counties but also bring ideas from the county to the state. 

Gauger began serving on the 4-H subcommittee of the national Extension Committee on Policy in 1963, chairing the subcommittee from 1964-1967. He was also a member of a small, informal group of state 4-H leaders (the “4-S Club”).  “We said, ‘4-H can be more than what we’re getting out of it. We think it can be more,” he said of the small group, whose second meeting was at the Iowa 4-H Camp. Gauger saw a broadening of the 4-H program. Youth began doing 4-H project work in new areas—for instance, alongside traditional projects like swine and dairy, youth could now train their puppy in the dog project. He believed adding projects was not the only kind of broadening 4-H needed; the emphasis should go beyond the project.

Gauger started a 4-H Builder’s Club in Story County after hearing about a similar one in Colorado.  He gave youth a chance to start programs on their own, like a county 4-H chorus and a recognition program for donors.  The important thing about the Builder’s Club and every 4-H Club was that the club was a “vehicle for individual growth,” Gauger said.  Leaders should be more concerned about the individuals in the club than the club itself, he said. Gauger also saw adult leaders grow and develop through 4-H.  In another county, he helped a group of youth form a club.

C.J. Gauger retired as State 4-H Leader in 1979.  Post retirement, he also worked about 3 years in Missouri, helping establish a Missouri 4-H Foundation. His accomplishments were celebrated by all those who worked with him. Throughout retirement, Gauger has continued to be a source of encouragement and counsel for anyone seeking his ideas, his counsel or guidance. He delights in visits from 4-H friends and continues to extol “the genius of 4-H” that brings youth and adults together for positive learning and development. 

Living in Ames for over 50 years has given Gauger an opportunity to be closely associated with the FarmHouse Fraternity throughout his adult life and has given him another platform beyond family and 4-H to have a profound influence on young people. C.J. has served in leadership roles at every level of FarmHouse, including chapter advisor, association board member and chair, and member of the International Executive Board of Directors from 1976 to 1981.  He was the International Fraternity’s director of expansion from 1981 to 1984, helping establish chapters in West Virginia, California, Tennessee, Nebraska and Illinois. C.J.’s commitment to FarmHouse has been honored by the ISU chapter with the C.J. Gauger Scholarship, awarded annually. The FarmHouse Foundation also has an endowment fund named for C.J. and Dorothy which benefits the leadership and educational development of new members of FarmHouse. The ISU chapter of FarmHouse recognized C.J. in 1973 with the Darl S. Snyder Alumni Award. The International Fraternity recognized him in 1984 with the Fraternity’s highest honor:  Master Builder of Men.  C.J. stated, “Since I was not able to experience the full benefit of FarmHouse as an undergraduate nor to contribute much to the brotherhood, I sought ways to continue my participation as an alum. It has truly been a rewarding, meaningful part of my life, reinforcing my convictions that FarmHouse is indeed an uncommon fraternity. Moreover that FarmHouse is a lifetime commitment.” Gauger’s 75 year membership in FarmHouse was recognized by the local chapter in 2012.

In 2002, Gauger was  inducted into the Iowa 4-H Hall of Fame, as well as the National 4-H Hall of Fame in 2003. The flagpole area at the Extension 4-H Youth Building at Iowa State University was dedicated in his honor in 2005. Looking back, he says “4-H’ers are our best project,” emphasizing again that people grow and develop in 4-H. “Helping young people grow into their full potential—that’s what I enjoy,” he said. In many years of service, he had a vision for the true “genius of 4-H,” interrelating the project skills and the life skills.  He invested his time in developing youth and adults, and has a place in 4-H’s past. 

Happy 100th birthday, C.J. Gauger! The Iowa 4-H Foundation is hosting a card shower for C.J.'s special occasion. Cards, including your 4-H story to share with C.J., can be mailed to the Iowa 4-H Foundation at:

Iowa 4-H Foundation
Attn: C.J.'s 100th
Extension 4-H Youth Building
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011

Gifts can also be made in C.J.'s honor on our website.


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