Karen Hinton, dean and director emeritus of University of Nevada, Reno Extension, and current Carson City resident, was inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame this week, for her lifetime achievements and contributions to 4-H, the nation’s largest youth development organization that develops citizenship, leadership, responsibility and life skills in youth through experiential learning.
Nominated by the University of Nevada, Reno and the Nevada 4-H Youth Development Program, Hinton was one of 20 people inducted to the National 4-H Hall of Fame during the ceremony held at the Kellogg Conference Hotel at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 12. The honorees were chosen from a slew of nominations from across the country for their exceptional leadership at the local, state, national and international levels.
“It is a distinct honor to be chosen as a part of the 4-H Hall of Fame Class of 2021 and to see how individual laureates have significantly impacted youth across the country,” Hinton said. “Through their dedication and tireless effort, countless youth from diverse backgrounds, both rural and urban, have learned skills through 4-H that prepare them to navigate life and become productive citizens.”
At the ceremony, Hinton was presented with a National 4-H Hall of Fame medallion, plaque and memory book. Sarah Chvilicek, who worked with Hinton and is the current 4-H Program coordinator for the northern and rural parts of the state, and current Nevada 4-H Director Carrie Stark were there to see her receive her honors.
“It was so great to see Karen receive this well-deserved honor,” Stark said. “She truly used her career in 4-H and Extension to try to make a positive impact on people’s lives. Her legacy is known far beyond Nevada’s borders. She is respected by Extension and 4-H leaders across the country for her innovation, hard work and passion for serving our country’s youth.”
As a youth, Hinton was a 4-H member in Happy, Texas, where she lived on a 1,280-acre farm. She began her Extension career in 1981, and spent the next 31 years working for University of Nevada, Reno Extension, first as an Extension home economist in Douglas County, and then as an Extension educator in Carson City. She soon moved up the ranks to the position of western area director, overseeing all Extension programs and operations for Washoe, Douglas and Storey Counties, and Carson City. In 1998, she became the dean and director of Extension, overseeing all Extension operations, statewide. She retired in 2012, after serving as the University’s longest-serving female dean.
“Karen's leadership spurred many programs that made a real difference to youth, volunteers and Nevada's citizens,” Chvilicek said. “Almost all the 4-H events and opportunities for youth in our state have been impacted by Karen's leadership.”
Hinton helped create Nevada 4-H Capital Days in the 1990s, which still exists today and includes the opportunity for youth to meet state elected officials during the legislative session. Civic engagement was essential to Hinton, who always encouraged staff and 4-H youth to interact with local-level decision-makers and place 4-H in front. By providing youth opportunities to speak to local decision-makers, they gained confidence that they could make a difference at the local level. On the national level, Karen served as the co-chair of the National 4-H Task Force formed from the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy to increase the visibility of 4-H with federal legislators.
Hinton drilled into her staff to assess needs at the local level and collaborate with others to address those needs. She encouraged 4-H faculty and staff to work with community agencies and organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club and Hispanic Services' teen leadership programs to reach underserved youth. In Carson City, when teachers indicated elementary students needed to learn where their food came from, Hinton encouraged the 4-H staff to work with Nevada Farm Bureau, agriculture producers and the school district to offer students a field trip to see live animals and hands-on exhibits and demonstrations regarding agriculture and food production. The event was dubbed Capital City Farm Days, and is ongoing today.
Although Hinton never lost touch with Extension’s roots in agriculture and rural life, she was also one of the first to embrace new technologies to help fulfill the missions of Extension and 4-H, co-founding and serving as the board chair for “eXtension,” a national website/database where citizens from across the country can get answers to their questions from Extension experts. Hinton brought that same type of innovation to Nevada, where she secured funding to install interactive video conference equipment in each Extension office, allowing 4-H staff, youth and volunteers to interact with one another more often, and participate in or plan events with little or no travel costs. The technology was also made available to other groups and organizations throughout the state, to allow them to conduct business without incurring travel time and costs.
Throughout her career, Hinton believed that volunteers were the heart of the 4-H Program.
“Karen envisioned the role of caring adults who worked with young people as very important and did not consider them ‘just a volunteer,’" Chvilicek said. “She valued our volunteers, and also held them to the same high standards and professionalism as she did our staff, even making sure we developed official job descriptions for our volunteers.”
Perhaps one of Hinton’s greatest passions was for 4-H camp, and in particular, the Nevada State 4-H Camp, located on the shores of Lake Tahoe, in South Lake Tahoe. During her time as dean, she led and oversaw many improvements to the camp’s buildings and grounds, including being on the cutting edge of energy-efficient construction, getting a green-energy-efficient cabin constructed at the camp during her tenure. She greatly valued outdoor educational experience for youth. She structured the camp program with hands-on educational workshops, evening campfire entertainment highlighting local history, cooperative games to foster a sense of belonging, and training for adult chaperones and teen counselors. She also designed an undergraduate- and graduate-level course for adults to receive college credit for volunteering as chaperones at 4-H camp.
Hinton was an active member of, and at times served in leadership roles for, many national and regional associations during her career, including NAE4-HYDP, National Extension Family and Consumer Sciences, National Association County Agricultural Agents, Extension Committee on Organization and Policy, Western Extension Directors Association. In retirement, Hinton continues to be an avid supporter of 4-H and Extension. She currently serves on the fund development committee for the Nevada State 4-H Camp.
About the National 4-H Hall of Fame
The National 4-H Hall of Fame was established in 2002 as part of the Centennial Project of National Association of Extension 4-H Agents in partnership with National 4-H Council and National 4-H Headquarters at USDA. Honorees are nominated by their home states; National 4-H Council; the National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Professionals; or the Division of Youth and 4-H at the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. based upon their exceptional leadership at the local, state, national and international levels. Jeannette Rea Keywood serves as the National 4-H Hall of Fame committee chair.