Michigan 4-H Foundation

2023 Michigan Farm Bureau 4-H Excellence in Agriculture Award recipients  

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Four outstanding 4-H leaders were honored with 2023 Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) 4-H Excellence in Agriculture Awards: Katheryn Bell of Oakland County, Marie Curell of Lapeer County, Melissa Barnett LaForest of Wayne County and Dione M. Oliver of Alpena County. The 4-H Excellence in Agriculture Awards recognize the outstanding achievements of Michigan 4-H volunteers or groups that have exhibited excellence in 4-H youth education and leadership development in the areas of 4-H beef cattle; dairy cattle; goats; horses; horticulture, crops and soils; poultry; rabbits; sheep; swine and veterinary science. 

Katheryn Bell, Oakland County.

Bell started volunteering with 4-H in 2017. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she took on the role of administrative volunteer leader for the Bowers Farm 4-H Club. While in-person activities were on hold, Bell worked to make animal care training videos that allowed members to care for their animals at the farm without overlapping. 

Bell was later hired as the Bowers Farm manager and passed leadership of the club to others, though she remains involved as a 4-H parent. In her new role, Bell continues to advocate for agriculture and youth education. She is one of the creators of the Bowers School Farm’s Helpful Hands program, which sees young people educate the local community about agriculture with proper animal interactions. Bell is an educator and leader who guides with passion for young people.  

Marie Curell, Lapeer County 

Curell has kept youth involvement and leadership at the forefront of her 36 years of 4-H volunteer service. A former 4-H’er herself, Curell serves as the Lapeer County 4-H Livestock Committee president and the Lapeer County 4-H Council treasurer. She is also a volunteer leader for the North Branch Finish Line Swine 4-H Club.  

Curell has organized many educational clinics focusing on livestock. Recently, she coordinated an animal first aid workshop and worked with a local veterinary office to give youth participants livestock first aid kits. Curell also leads practices to prepare local young people for the annual meats judging contest and helps with the local fair, livestock shows and Lapeer County Farm Bureau’s Project RED (also known as Rural Education Day). Her dedication to youth development and success has encouraged 4-H members to participate in all the opportunities 4-H has to offer.  

Melissa Barnett LaForest, Wayne County  

LaForest’s passion for horses started when she was a 4-H member. She started volunteering with the Wayne County 4-H program in 1991 and has become instrumental in the county’s 4-H horse program. She is a volunteer leader for the Mustangers 4-H Club, a group known for maintaining the fairgrounds and participating in outreach experiences. In addition, LaForest serves as president of the Wayne County 4-H Horse and Pony Association, a member of the county fair board, and the chairperson of the county fair equine division.  

Working with other Wayne County 4-H volunteers, LaForest helped develop the county’s 4-H protégé horse program. This program allows young people to learn horsemanship and animal care in a safe environment. Additionally, LaForest runs the master equestrian program, which allows older Wayne County youth to expand their horsemanship and professional skills. Over the years, LaForest has also led horse clinics for local young people and participated in the MFB’s Project RED. Her efforts and passion for the 4-H horse program have influenced countless young people.  

Dione M. Oliver, Alpena County 

Oliver is well known around the Alpena County 4-H program. A former 4-H’er herself, Oliver has served for more than 18 years as the volunteer leader for the 4-H Helping Hands Club and for 14 years as a member of the Alpena County 4-H Council.  

Though the club itself requires countless hours of service, Oliver still finds more ways to give back to 4-H. She serves on multiple county committees, leads 4-H SPIN (special interest) clubs, coordinates the 4-H food booth at the county fair, and helped develop a summer camp and hosted livestock clinics. She is an expert on rabbit, sheep, goats and poultry and shares her expertise with other county 4-H programs.  

Outside of 4-H, Oliver has been a teacher for 28 years and incorporates agriculture into her lessons. Her passion for educating youth and promoting agriculture is evident in all she does.  

Honorees are recognized by both Michigan 4-H and MFB. Each receives a $1,000 grant, funded by the MFB 4-H Excellence in Agriculture Endowment, and a personalized recognition memento. They can use the grants to help support a 4-H agricultural program of their choosing or for volunteer training, supplies or curricula to enhance 4-H programming locally and statewide.  

MFB established the MFB 4-H Excellence in Agriculture Endowment with the Michigan 4-H Foundation in 2006. County Farm Bureaus and individuals were asked to build the endowment, and MFB matched gifts received from county Farm Bureaus up to $50,000, resulting in a $100,000 endowment. The awards have been given since 2008. To learn more about the award and past winners, visit https://mi4hfdtn.org/mfb.