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Salem boy, 15, takes reins of state's oldest 4-H Club

| Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, 8:36 p.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Westmoreland Squares club members Ben Jumper (left), 15, of Salem Township and Caroline McChesney (second from left), 12, of Derry Township perform at the Westmoreland Fair. Jumper was recently elected president of the New Alexandria Home Ec 4-H Club, the first male to hold the top leadership position.

The oldest 4-H Club in Pennsylvania recently experienced a first.

In the 98 years since the New Alexandria Home Ec 4-H Club was founded in 1915, the club had never had a male president.

While many of the club's typical activities — quilting, baking, knitting, cross-stitch, crocheting, baby-sitting, sewing and cooking, for example — are not stereotypically appealing to teenage boys, Ben Jumper, a 15-year-old from Salem Township, was proud to make history by being elected to the club's top leadership position.

“Not too many people get the opportunity to really change history like that,” he said. “It's one of those kind of stereotypes, like ‘Oh, girls do sewing,' so for me to be that first guy to be the president really meant that I was defying a stereotype.

“It gets me sometimes, I'll just be thinking, ‘That is so cool for me to be that guy,' ” he added. “It really means a lot to me, and that's why I'm constantly trying to be as good of a president as I can be. ... I feel like I have been chosen to be a good president, and since I am the first guy, I have to show that I can be just as good as the girls were.”

Jean Bash, who has been the leader of the club for 53 years, said Ben's enthusiasm and commitment to the club are inspiring.

“He's become very focused on what he wants to accomplish,” she said. “At 15, he's a very mature young man. I'm just enjoying watching him grow. ... He's not afraid to try anything new, and he has a personality that works. He's a very hard worker.”

The practical skills studied by the club drew his interest initially, and Ben stuck with the club despite being one of only a few male members.

“I just really got a liking for it,” he said. “The first project I did was a bag, like a tote bag, and then right after that was a pillow. I just really liked the sewing and stuff like that. I've been in the club for five years now, and I always wanted to be president. I ran for president two years ago and got elected for vice president. Then this year I got elected for president.”

The club meets nearly every Tuesday evening in the New Alexandria Community Center, and Jumper said the projects help teach members ways to become self-sufficient.

“There's a lot of people who, if they get a hole in their pants, they're going to buy a new pair of pants,” he said. “Me, being that I'm in the Home Ec club, I know how to sew things. I could fix that. It's just having the ability to make stuff instead of buying it.”

The club also studies photography, woodworking, rocketry and geology, according to the club website.

Ben is involved with a number of other 4-H clubs, including the Sunshine 4-H club — the largest club in Westmoreland County, the county's Travel-All exchange club and the Westmoreland Squares square dancing club. He's also part of the county's 4-H Teen Leadership Council.

“He's become very active in the 4-H, and I'm just very proud of him for his enthusiasm and willingness to work at getting things done,” Bash said of Jumper.

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913, or greinbold@tribweb.com.

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