MANSFIELD, Ill. — Thomas and Elizabeth Warren have had a connection with the University of Illinois for over 100 years and their legacy of supporting 4-H and agriculture continues today.
University, Extension, 4-H leaders and family recently celebrated the Warren family’s long-term support of Illinois youth at the 120-acre farm located in Piatt County.
The legacy of the Warren family started in 1955 when Elizabeth Warren gifted 40 acres of farmland to U of I as a memorial to her family. The intention of the gift was to support and promote Illinois 4-H and other youth agricultural programs, as well as long-term research.
In 1996, an additional 80 acres were added to the gift from the estate of Milton W. and Claradine Warren, as a memorial to Milton and his sister, Anna May Warren.
Kim Kidwell, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences dean, said of Elizabeth Warren’s 1955 gift, “She was a pioneer, for sure. People weren’t doing things like this back in 1955. I don’t know how she had this idea, but it’s pretty spectacular that she decided that this is what she wanted her legacy to be. I have to thank (the family) for being so forward-thinking.”
Dwight Huffstutler has farmed the land for the trust since 1977 and his father before that. He raises 3,400 acres of corn and soybeans in Piatt and a bit of Champaign counties.
“They enjoyed 4-H. They were all about agriculture. The whole family was, of course, because Elizabeth, the mother of great-uncle Milton, was really the one that kind of got this started, but they always thought it was important,” Huffstutler said.
“Thomas and Elizabeth had three children who all graduated from the University of Illinois in the early 1900s, which was amazing. So, they were all about education, and they were all about agriculture, so 4-H was a fit.
“They, unfortunately, had some deaths in the family, and great-aunt Claradine and great-uncle Milton lost their son when he was 17, so it was just a natural transition and they decided to go ahead and follow up on what Elizabeth had done and put the 80 acres with the 40 acres.
“They were big believers in kids and 4-H and agriculture, and they thought this would be a good way to pass it. I’m just working for the kids.”
“Dwight is an ancestor of the folks that gave it to us, and he’s leasing this land and farming it and the proceeds that we receive go to fund 4-H activities in the area, which makes it really special. When we can use farmland, gifts of farmland, in a way that helps sustain what we do in the college to support our communities, it’s a really beautiful story,” Kidwell said.
“We’ve had one-third of this land in our possession since 1955, and the second gift came in a few years later. Over that whole time, it’s generated resources to use for 4-H, for developing youth in the area.
“I just don’t know if you can make a better contribution, especially in the ag community, to support that kind of program because it means so much the kids in the area.
“So, the legacy here, and the fact that Dwight still farms it and is one of the legacy family members, I think is a big deal because he’s the torch-bearer to the next generation and they’re still doing good things even though they’ve been gone for all these years.”
Income from the Warren Farm has been used to attract new youth to 4-H, share the 4-H brand and help youth to explore areas of interest. Recently, funds have specifically supported Special Interest Club, or SPIN, grants and Club and Innovation Grants.
“4-H has really evolved into the types of things that are of interest to children and youth these days. So. we have everything from our special interest clubs that include jazz bands to cooking clubs and other types of activities such as (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or) STEM-related things like the robotics and computing and data sciences,” Shelly Nickols-Richardson, associate dean and Extension director.
“We really are evolving as the times change, how farming practices change, how we think about what we’re doing in the commercial ag sector, in home management sector, in teaching and training, in animal health, livestock production and all of the things that we do on the farm and how that’s really important to raise our kids through the 4-H programs.”
“We are trying to reach youth in news ways. One way to do that is through our SPIN clubs. It’s just 4-H trying to meet the needs of youth,” said Jamie Boas, DeWitt, Piatt and Macon counties’ 4-H youth development educator.
Popular special interest clubs include robotics, drones, livestock, cooking, photography, leadership, visual arts and sewing projects. Often, special interest clubs require specialized equipment that may be beyond the ability of families to purchase. Illinois 4-H Foundation grants have helped supplement equipment costs to start these new 4-H club opportunities.
Boas said one SPIN activity is underway at the nearby Farmer City Elementary School that features an afterschool program using teen teachers.
“We recruit high school students and we train them on working with kids, positive youth development, group management, and they do after-school programs. We do that once a week for six weeks on a certain topic. This past year we did agriculture, where your food comes from, we did art STEM, gardening and cooking,” Boas said.
Some of the local 4-H youth who have benefited from the farm’s proceeds through their own 4-H clubs were at the celebration to see the farm operation firsthand and talk about their experiences.
As a 4-H teen teacher, Corissa Godbee, has taught sessions in agriculture, STEM, art, gardening, and cooking in Farmer City, not far from the Warren farm.
“I have a lot of interaction with kids, and we get to learn a lot about food, science and art through a bunch of different activities,” Godbee said.
“It’s super fun and you know get to make food and learn about nutrition,” said Ellie Schlieper, 4-H teen teacher.
“Gifts of farmland, especially unrestricted gifts of farmland, are just critical to allowing us to be kind of be what we call the gap-filler for funding. Obviously, federal funding, state funding, private gifts are all fluctuating, so the idea that there’s a gift of farmland that’s going to be a legacy forever that we can use in a way that is supporting a general use is very beneficial,” said Angie Barnard, Illinois 4-H Foundation executive director.
“So, we’ve chosen in recent years to use the Warren Farm money that we’ve received to offset a couple of things that we were starting to see become challenges in Illinois. One of those being as kids age they get busier and busier and busier and not everything can be done, and so how do we keep young people involved in 4-H, how do we keep them from choosing sports over 4-H or other things.
“One of the things we found is that younger kids love to look up to the older kids. So, the concept of teen teachers, we can only reach so many kids, so they may deliver different programming.
“The other good piece about this that I think is exciting that we spend a lot of the Warren Farm gift money on is for special interest clubs. Not a traditional 4-H club, but it’s something that we allow young people to say, ‘I have an interest in learning more about X,’ so maybe that’s photography or robotics or gardening or whatever that might be and those people then have a caring adult helping them learn specifically about that effort. It’s kids saying they want to learn more about this.”
The College of ACES currently receives income from 6,100 acres of donated farmland held for its exclusive benefit. Income from the ongoing successful operation of a gifted farm serves as a perpetual funding source for the college’s land-grant mission.