Pennsylvania Man to Join National 4-H Hall of Fame

Robert Kessler, former Extension Agent in Franklin County, to be inducted this fall.

Kessler's Extension career began in 1969

Kessler's Extension career began in 1969

Ag Learning Center, 4-H Therapeutic Riding Center, involvement with PAE4-HA and NAE4-HA, Seeing Eye puppies – there are just some of the reasons why Robert Kessler of Pennsylvania received honors to join the 4-H Hall of Fame.

Bob was hired as a Dairy Agent in Franklin County in 1969. In 1972, he became one of the first full time 4-H agents in Pennsylvania. The county 4-H enrollment grew from 699 to 1875 by 1993 with Bob as 4-H Coordinator. He worked successfully with the County Extension Director and county commissioners to hire a 4-H program assistant. He diversified the 4-H program to include school enrichment, which was new at that time, with ecology, babysitting, embryology, and foods projects. In his role as 4-H Agent, one of Bob’s proudest accomplishments was preparing 26 county 4-H’ers to earn trips to National 4-H Congress from 1971-1992. Later as County Extension Director, Bob supported the 4-H agent in establishing the Ag Learning Center in 1999. The program, which involves hands-on learning activities with animals to teach about agriculture, has reached over 2,800 youth. Bob also helped start the 4-H Seeing Eye Puppy Club and personally raised puppies with his family. Over 180 Seeing Eye Dogs, raised by 4-H’ers, have been placed as trained dog guides since he began the program.

Bob was instrumental in starting the Franklin County 4-H Therapeutic Riding Center, established in 1982 on 25 acres with a $150,000 investment. It started because he saw an opportunity to do something for kids and adults with physical, emotional, and psychological challenges - people who were either left out or unable to participate in other programs. It involved two horses, a couple riders, and a few volunteers. What began in 1982 as a small but meaningful experiment is today, 35 years later, the Franklin County 4-H Therapeutic Riding Program - where some 75-80 children and adults reap the benefits of riding horses every year. Bob worked very hard for the center and included his own “sweat equity” - he found 25 acres of land to lease, found the first instructor, made business contacts for donors, mowed fields, built stalls, and weeded fence line.

As a trendsetter in the early days of the profession of 4-H youth development educators, Bob helped establish the Pennsylvania Association of Extension 4-H Agents in 1977 and served as its first president. This was done at a time when administration was not terribly supportive of a new 4-H association! He was also the first PAE4-HA member to be elected as a national officer, serving as the Northeast Regional Director from 1981-1982. Bob was recognized by NAE4-HA with the Distinguished Service Award in 1979 and Meritorious Service Award in 2004.

Bob helped implement the Master Gardener Program in Franklin County in 1993. The program began with a class of nine volunteers, and now has over 150 active Master Gardeners, contributing 10,005 hours of community service last year.

Perhaps, the capstone to his career was as coordinator for the Franklin County Agricultural Center Steering Committee. This $2,500,000 capital campaign resulted in construction of the Agricultural Heritage Building, providing office and meeting room space for five agricultural agencies.

Bob has also been active in his community with the Chambersburg Sunrise Kiwanis Club, serving as president for three years, Key Club Liaison for students, and Adopt A Highway chairperson. He has served as a Penn State Mont Alto Campus Advisory Board member and has been a Franklin County Fair Board member. These efforts enabled him to be the first recipient of the Chambersburg Rotary Excellence Award in 1995 and the Distinguished Service to Franklin County Agriculture Award in 1988.

Bob retired on July 1, 2010 and has remained active by volunteering with the 4-H Therapeutic Riding Center he created. It is important to note that even though Bob is retired, these programs he helped initiate continue today.

Susan Rotz, current Director of the Franklin County 4-H Therapeutic Riding Center says “Bob is a great leader who always knows how to get the best out of his volunteers. He has a unique way of getting people to work out their problems. He saw the potential of all that he worked with – young and old alike. Bob made this program what it is today. He helped mold me and many others to be the people they are now”.

The ceremony to induct Robert Kessler into the National 4-H Hall of Fame will occur on Friday, October 6, 2017 at the National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, MD.