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Birney, Sprouse inducted into Iowa 4-H Hall of Fame

Duane Sprouse and Dave Birney
Duane Sprouse and Dave Birney

Duane Sprouse and Dave Birney were recognized July 13 at the Washington County Fair Grounds as Washington County’s 2020 4-H Hall of Fame recipients.

They were presented this honor in front of county fair livestock department colleagues at the annual fair preparation meeting. Sprouse and Birney will be invited again to receive recognition at the annual 4-H Awards Night in November.

Each Iowa county is invited to nominate a recipient annually who is recognize again formally by the Iowa 4-H Foundation.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the counties and state to recognize and celebrate 4-H volunteers and staff who have shown outstanding service and dedication to Iowa’s 4-H program,” said Amy Green, Washington County 4-H youth coordinator. “Duane and Dave have been remarkable to work with. I will forever be thankful for their steadfast, patient, and supportive character.”

As staples to the Washington County Fair sheep project area, Dave Birney and Duane Sprouse can typically be found in the sheep barn or in the Extension office, mulling over show orders to give the most kids the best chance or coaching the new members in their first year or laughing about lessons learned with several generations of exhibitors who have been a part of their reign.

Birney and Sprouse have served as a volunteer duo in the sheep project area for 48 years; they’ve seen it all and continue to work tirelessly to improve the overall experience for youth.

Birney is a Washington County 4-H alum, a former member of the Jackson Boys. He grew up in an active 4-H family and carried on the tradition set by his parents.

He even met his wife, Linda, on a 4-H trip to Washington, D.C.

Sprouse became involved with the 4-H program during his time as an agriculture teacher. With no prior experience of raising sheep himself, Sprouse suggested raising sheep to an FFA member in need of a project, which in turn, sparked his own learning about the species.

His own kids started out their 4-H careers by raising sheep and have never looked back. As a family, they have grown their expertise and now sell club lambs themselves.

The duo recalls a point in time when the sheep were held in the barn with wooden gates on a bed of straw.

They laugh how that a groundhog was chased out each fair season but always found its way back – similar to this duo, they always returned.

They remark how much things have changed since then. Together, they led the refurbishing of the sheep barn in Washington County, including the installation of all new concrete and permanent pens. They oversaw the addition of a new wash rack to the facility as well.

They said that “We made as many opportunities for kids we could.”

One such addition is the class known as premiere exhibitor, which seeks to recognize 4-H sheep exhibitors who can articulate their understanding about the future of the animal industry and their knowledge of animal production. Youth are quizzed, interviewed and evaluated on their showmanship as they compete for overall winner in each age division.

Serving as a rich resource for sheep project families, Sprouse leads several successive pre-fair sheep workshops each summer.

A special family lamb class, “Ewe Raised Me Right”, will honor the work of Birney and Sprouse at the Washington County 2021 county fair when the stands can be filled with generations of friends and family who have worked with the duo.

When asked why they have maintained their commitment to the Washington County 4-H program for almost 50 years, Sprouse answered, “The kids. It’s always about the kids.”

He went on to say that, “the pay over the years was their smiles.”