Dortha Strack (middle) holds the award she was presented for 55 years of service with 4-H. Submitted photo
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Dortha Strack loved by many, honored for dedication to 4-H, FCE and community

by Elane Moonier ~ Features Editor

“A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others,” said the Wizard to the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. If we consider that to be true, the heart of Dortha Strack would be judged as the best because she was loved by so many, and they came by the hundreds to show their love and respect at her visitation and funeral service last week.

A native of the area and a graduate of Jackson High School, Dortha was actively involved in the community from a very young age. With her husband, Harold, they raised three children on the family farm, and Dortha kept all of them involved. She had many interests which she actively pursued, gardening, cooking, sewing, her church,  but the greater loves were 4-H and FCE Clubs, and she put her heart and soul into them.

Dortha was recently recognized as a 65-year member of Kage FCE Club, and her friend, Jobina Daume, said she did so many things for the club it would be hard to talk about them all.

“She was always the same person all the time,” Jobina said. “She was always honest and truthful.”

Dortha applied for grants for the club to help with community projects. She made her famous chicken and dumplings for the club’s dinners and was always making homemade bread and rolls, which she frequently gifted to club members and friends.

At Christmas, she made stollen to give to many she knew, and in the summer she brought produce from the garden to share with her club. She sewed and helped make weighted blankets for autistic children and collected dolls which would be given to organizations who help children for Child Advocacy Day.

Jobina said that the club made ladies hats on one occasion, and Dortha loved her hat so much she wore it several times, including at a high tea the club hosted. Dortha was presented with the National Heart of FCE Award from the organization.

Many people met Dortha through her work at Sunny Hill Garden Center where she was employed for nearly 50 years. Anna Lee Hahs recalled making a phone call to Dortha to ask for some gardening advice.

“She could always tell you what you needed to do,” she said. “She had so much knowledge and experience with gardening and was such a pleasure to talk with.”

Dortha also handed down advice on the Saturday morning radio show which she did each week with Paul Schnare. Dortha said she considered gardening her therapy.

“Her heart was always in 4-H,” said Mary Lou Kurtz, another long-time friend of Dortha. The two women met when their 4-H clubs were in competition about 45 years ago. Mary belonged to Camp-ster 4-H, and Dortha led Young Americans 4-H, a club she had started in 1955.

“Young Americans Club would always get first place in competitions, and Camp-ster would get second for many years,” Mary said. “I had only heard of her at that time and couldn’t understand why they always bested us.”

Then Mary’s best friend from college passed away, leaving two children, ages nine and 12, who belonged to Young Americans Club. Mary took them to the meetings, and she soon learned why Dortha’s club was consistently winning first place awards. “I went back and told my group they had more parents at the 4-H meeting than members, and that was what we needed to do with our club.”

After 15 years with Campster 4-H, the club folded, and Mary and four other families joined Young Americans 4-H.

“I have spent the last 30 years working with Dorthy (Dortha),” Mary said. “She was my best friend in 4-H.”

They worked on committees, projects and all sorts of activities. With a background in teaching, Mary was assigned to do all the reports. She worked with Dortha when she acquired the first 4-H building on the SEMO District Fair grounds.

“That was a lifelong dream for her,” Mary said. They worked the food stand at the fair over the years and also the exhibits in the 4-H building. Dortha was director of the 4-H exhibits during those years.  “She would take a week off from her job at Sunny Hill to work the fair,” Mary said. “That was a big part of her life. Then she came up with the idea for a summer camp for kids ages five to eight, and she started Dortha’s Camp for Clover Kids. We had the camp out at Cape County Park on the first Sunday in June. That was another of her dreams.”

Dortha was the first person to be given the Missouri 4-H Hall of Fame award, presented in Sedalia. She then nominated her friend, Mary, to receive the award next, and Mary got the award in 2016. In November 2017, Dortha was honored for 55 years of service with 4-H at a banquet. “It was an immediate standing ovation for her from 4-H all over the county,” Mary said. “It brought tears to my eyes. And it wasn’t just 4-H, it was everything she did in so many places and for so many people.”

Mary wrote a long poem about Dortha and read it when she made the presentation of the award. Here are a few excerpts from that poem: “Dorthy was a leader from the very start right here. She had it all together far and near. Leadership was always a strength for Dorthy, indeed. As she continued to help those in need."

“Dorthy was the gardening leader for years in Cape County. She has helped so many members and their family. She had so much patience and kindness for anyone at any time. If only the rest of us could be one-half as kind.

“Many words have been used to describe Dorthy—a pillar, a mentor, one in a million, great legacy, amazing, special, precious, remarkable, sweet, a grandma to many....so hard to beat. Dorthy is not just a legend says her friend. She’s an institution right to the end. There will NEVER be another one to have her smile. No one will EVER be ready to match her style.”

More than 500 people attended the visitation for Dortha at McCombs Funeral Home on Feb. 6. Over 200 came for the funeral services the following day. Dortha was laid to rest at Lorimer Cemetery in Cape Girardeau, but her legacy in 4-H and FCE and as one who was loved by many will live on for years to come.
 
 

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