A flock of sheep or piano lessons? This was the decision which launched 11-year-old Janet “Zugschwerdt” Hurlbert’s 4-H career.
“I didn’t like the piano bench much. My parents could see that I was more interested in the farm, so they said they would either pay for piano lessons or help me buy some sheep for a 4-H project,” explains the 2016 Eminent Homemaker from Clark County of the flock of registered Columbia sheep which ended up helping her pay for college.
Hurlbert’s 4-H involvement extended beyond sheep to several other projects including the South Dakota State Fair pie baking contest, which she won as a high school senior. In addition to a college fund and gaining practical skills, Hurlbert attributes 4-H to her ability to see projects through.
“4-H taught me that you don’t start projects you don’t intend to complete.”
Launching successful projects and seeing them through is something Hurlbert has become known for. As several community members put it, “If you want something done, you ask Janet.” Whether that is the annual United Methodist fundraising turkey dinner she organizes along with a team of volunteers to feed more than 400; the many organizations she has actively led; or the events - local and statewide – which she has orchestrated; throughout her adult life, Hurlbert has embraced the challenges and opportunities to serve her community.
“That’s how I grew up. My dad was a 4-H leader; my mom was actively involved in Farm Bureau,” she explains.
A life-long attendee of the South Dakota State Fair, even as an adult, Hurlbert and a friend would enter more than 50 exhibits in the South Dakota State Fair each year.
“I grew up going to the State Fair. My mom would bake a homemade peach pie and kept it in the back window of the car to keep it warm.”
As a young newlywed, her dad, Lee, encouraged her and her husband, Roger, a farmer, to become involved in Farm Bureau. Although she worked and had three young sons, Russ, Randall and Jeffrey, Hurlbert became active in her local Farm Bureau. She became the County Women’s Chairman, then accepted a district leadership role and today serves as the State Vice President of the Women’s Leadership Team.
Hurlbert, as a member of the Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Team, was instrumental in launching the Book in a Bucket program which helps educate school-age children and their teachers about production agriculture in South Dakota. “A bucket contains a book about a specific farm animal and everything that goes into raising it.
This way, if the teacher has some time to fill, they simply check out the bucket and have an activity for their students,” explains Hurlbert.
For example, the Beef Bucket contains a range cube, corn, hay, syringe – to help explain how farmers and ranchers treat animals that are sick -- and an ear tag – so students understand how animals are labeled and tracked.
“Farm Bureau gives farmers and ranchers a voice – it helps us advocate for our state’s number one industry,” Hurlbert says.
Along with working as secretary for the Clark County Extension Office, throughout her career, Hurlbert spent her nights and weekends helping Roger on his family’s farm. “I had the best of both worlds. We lived in town and Roger commuted to the farm – so it was easy for me to travel to work and the boys to be involved in school activities. Then, after work, I could go out and help on the farm and clear my head.”
Once their boys were grown, Hurlbert became actively involved in the local American Legion Baker Unit 209 Auxiliary. Always patriotic, after her first year of membership, Hurlbert was asked to serve as the local president. Qualified for the task, she was soon elected to serve as District President and then, in 2013, Hurlbert serve as the President of the South Dakota American Legion Auxiliary.
In this role, Hurlbert traversed the state of South Dakota, traveling more than 30,000 miles to visit many local American Legion posts. “Honoring our country and veterans and what they have done so that we have the freedoms we enjoy today has always been something I am passionate about,” Hurlbert explains, of serving the state’s 13,950 legion members.
Hurlbert has always enjoyed leading. “A good leader listens and hears what is needed. Then, they go to work and see that what is needed gets done. They help lead the group to work together to get things done.”
Over the years, Hurlbert has served as president of the United Methodist Women’s Circle, advisor for the football and wrestling cheerleaders, has served on the South Dakota Farm Bureau Women’s Committee, S.D. Farm Bureau Leadership Team, served as delegate at the American Farm Bureau Convention and advisor for the Annual Youth Citizenship Seminar. Hurlbert is also a founding member of the Hustling Homemakers Extension Club.
For more than 25 years she has been a member of the American Legion Baker Unit 209 Auxiliary, chairing many committees and serving as local president, district president, second vice president, first state vice president and 2013 President of the South Dakota American Legion Auxiliary. Recognized for her efforts, Hurlbert was named American Legion Auxiliary Unit Member of the Year.
“Without people giving back in these small communities, there would be nothing done,” Hurlbert says.