By Dawn Kiefer
Relatively few people can claim 60 years of volunteer service, but Eileen Eberle of Bear Valley can.
She served as a volunteer leader of the Sauk County Big Hollow Bears 4-H Club and a few months ago was delighted to be inducted into the newly established Wisconsin 4-H Hall of Fame.
The Big Hollow Bears 4-H Club was started in 1953 and two years later Eileen, then a new mother and farm wife, was asked by local youths to serve as the club leader. Having been a 4-H club member in Indiana during her own youth, she realized the positive impact membership has on young people.
Early in her 4-H club leadership she taught three boys woodworking and leather craft, but had to learn how to do these herself before she could teach them. In this and all other 4-H endeavors, she strove to help make the community a better place to live. She led efforts targeting dairy promotion and safety awareness, and fostered interest in music and drama. She saw to it that each club meeting included a safety topic and demonstration and she spearheaded an effort to place rumble strips at a dangerous intersection.
During the 1970s and ‘80s, Big Hollow Bears members were recognized at state and national levels for their safety and dairy promotion achievements under Eileen’s leadership and several young men and women were selected to attend the National 4-H congress.
Former Big Hollow Bears member Dorothy Lins Harms stated in the induction program, “In everything we did in 4-H, nothing less than the best effort was expected by Mrs. Eberle. As club members we were empowered by Mrs. Eberle to plan, organize and put into action the community service we…carried out. During her tenure as club general leader, over 1,000 youths were guided under her leadership.”
It may be that 4-H involvement is in Eileen’s blood. When her mother, Ethel Feaster (later Mrs. Haag), and Ethel’s brother were in high school, around 1920, they were in a corn and beef club, the forerunner to 4-H. Ethel and her brother placed beef cattle on a train in Muscoda and sent them to Chicago to be judged.
Ethel married and moved to Indiana and Eileen grew up in Hartford City, Ind., until age 13, when she moved to Hoosier Hollow in Richland County. She graduated from Richland Center High School and from the Richland County Normal School (teachers’ college). Eileen married Lawrence Eberle and they had five children: Luanne, Randall, Jo-Ellen, Diane and Angela. Eileen, a widow since 2002, has 15 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
She was a teacher for 40 years, including many years at St. Luke’s of Plain and at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monona, and at public schools.
She attended services and was in the altar society at St. Kilian’s for many years, until it closed, and now belongs to Sacred Heart Church of Lone Rock. She has been a member of HCE (Home & Community Education), formerly known as Homemakers, for nearly 50 years and is currently the secretary and program planner of the local group. She is also the secretary of the executive group of Delta Kappa Gamma.
Her 4-H involvement as an adult leader encompassed much, including directing musicals and dramatic productions, although she adds that pianist Mildred Carswell helped the club win at state and Helen O’Brian helped them win in drama. All five of Eileen’s kids won key awards. She cites the cooperation of The Richland Observer, WRCO AM/FM, former State Senator Dale Schultz and former Governor Tommy Thompson in helping to bring about safety measures on the Lone Rock bridge and changes to the seatbelt law, which the Big Hollow Bears helped draw attention to. Before the existence of mandated baby car seats, the club made “love seats” for hospital newborns and they also helped with the fingerprinting project at the Richland County Fair along with former Richland County Sheriff Darrell Berglin.
She is also proud of the fact that her late husband Lawrence came up with the idea to start the River Valley Fair and they were honored with a plaque for starting it. “Fifty years later it’s still going,” she says.
Eileen notes that some of her former 4-H club members are now community leaders, including corporation heads, medical providers and police officers. “4-H sparked them to get out there and do something,” she said. “I’m amazed at how many I run into out there. They’re in the real world.”
“Being in 4-H is a good adventure to have,” Eileen says. “It’s been good for me and our kids. I am utterly in awe and absolutely humbled to receive this award (induction into the Wisconsin 4-H Hall of Fame). This award isn’t just for me. It’s for everyone who helped over the 60 years.”