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4-H leader steps down after 24 years

Ken Willmarth retired Thursday after 24 years in charge of the 4-H program in Stanislaus County, but he is not quite done with this work.

He plans to continue as a volunteer on the effort to build 4-H membership in west Modesto and the city's airport neighborhood.

About 1,350 children are enrolled in the county's 25 4-H clubs, guided by about 500adult volunteers. They take part in activities ranging from poultry raising to cake baking to scrapbooking.

"It's just a wonderful way to end my career, to see the purpose of 4-H being fulfilled," Willmarth said. "It's youth development. It's raising young people in the context of their families and their neighborhoods and communities."

JoAnn Ratto, who has been a part-time program representative for 4-H, will become full time Monday and take over Willmarth's duties until a successor is named. That could take as long as two years, she said.

The program is part of the University of California Cooperative Extension, which mainly advises farmers and does agricultural research.

A varied background

Willmarth earned a bachelor's degree in political science at University of California atBerkeley in 1966. After graduation, he and his wife, Jenny, did a Peace Corps stint in Peru. That was where he was introduced to agricultural science and youth development programs.

Willmarth then worked as a farm and 4-H adviser in Oregon and as an elementary school teacher in Yuba and Placer counties before coming to Stanislaus County in 1983.

His plans during retirement also include finishing his master's degree in public administration and communication studies at California State University, Stanislaus.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at or 578-2385.