Meet Mike Tate: a visionary leader for 4-H, youth development
Michael Tate, Michigan’s first African-American state 4-H director, shaped the future of 4-H in Michigan.
Michael J. Tate, Ph.D., began his career in 1972 as 4-H agent in Berrien County, Michigan. In 1976, he became a statewide 4-H program leader with Michigan 4-H before becoming the state’s first African-American state 4-H director in 1983. He would serve in this role, as well as the assistant director for Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, until 1993.
Under his leadership, the Michigan 4-H program prospered and had significant advancements. He recruited and supported a large and diverse cadre of state and county faculty and staff. He developed many partnerships with nonprofits, which increased 4-H visibility, and strengthened relations with policymakers, ultimately securing nearly $7 million in grants during his Michigan 4-H tenure.
An extraordinary leader for Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension, Tate directed the organizations with an eye on the road ahead.
“My leadership approach is focused on the future and what we can do tomorrow. We can’t do much about what’s happening now and what happened in the past. We can learn from it, but there is not much we can do about it. So I’m always focused on what we’re going to do tomorrow, the next day and the next year,” Tate said.
After 26 years with MSU Extension, he became a professor of human development and associate dean and director for Washington State University (WSU) Extension. He then served as WSU’s chief diversity officer from 2010 until retiring in 2014 as professor emeritus in the Department of Human Development.
In recognition of his many contributions to Michigan 4-H, Tate was inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame in 2014, and in 2017, he was elected as Michigan 4-H Foundation honorary trustee. Both awards honor the many significant advancements to the 4-H movement that resulted thanks to Tate’s leadership. These contributions include:
- In 1987, the Tollgate Center was gifted to MSU for use as a 4-H education center, supported by an additional grant from the Americana Foundation to the Michigan 4-H Foundation.
- In 1988, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation granted $2.6 million to fund the “SPACES: Preparing Kids for a High-Tech and Global Future” initiative for early adolescent development.
- Michigan 4-H partnerships with other 4-H programs grew internationally to Poland and other countries, including the Michigan 4-H China Art Project.
- Although the $3.4 million Vision 2021: Campaign for Kettunen Center launched in 1994, just after Tate’s departure, his vision helped to pave the way for improving facilities (including the addition of the Red Oak wing and Mawby Learning Center), grounds and 4-H environmental programs.
Additionally, the Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden opened in 1993 on the campus of MSU as the first youth-focused garden located on a university campus. The Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden became known as the “most creative half-acre in America” and among Tate’s most memorable and successful projects during his tenure at MSU.
He recalled the day he first heard of the concept, “Jane Taylor [who became the 4-H Children’s Garden curator] came and talked to me about the idea of creating a children’s garden. What intrigued me was not only the garden itself, other gardens are not for children. I was excited about that.”
With support from Tate and other MSU leaders, a plan was created and potential donors were identified for the garden – 4-H friends, staff, retirees and the MSU community. When Tate’s mother passed away, he sponsored the Sundial Garden in her memory.
“My mother passed in 1988. She spoke of Michigan 4-H and wanted something in that area. She was a teacher for over 40 years, and after a conversation with Don Jost [then Michigan 4-H Foundation executive director] and Jane Taylor, we settled on the Sundial Garden because of its active involvement. I’m certain my mother would really like it and feel it exemplifies her active, engaged form of learning. Hopefully, young people and adults learn how to tell time from the sun.”
When Tate left MSU for WSU in 1998, many individuals made gifts to 4-H in his honor. These gifts helped to fund the African American Garden, one of six parts of the rainbow garden section of the Michigan 4-H Children’s Gardens. Plants featured in the garden include cucumbers, okra, peanuts, black-eyed peas, watermelon and geraniums.
To ensure the viability of these theme gardens and the 4-H Children’s Gardens as a whole, Tate and his wife established the Michael J. and Winifred Ann Tate Endowment in 2012 to support the gardens for perpetuity.
“Perpetual resources to support the Michigan 4-H Children’s Gardens, mainly adding new dimensions to it, are a commitment to be sure we have a hands-on, experimental place where children can have fun, learn and enjoy, along with their parents,” he said.
Today, Tate still carries a deep appreciation and passion for 4-H, youth development and education.
“4-H came into existence to support schools and that still applies today,” Tate said.
“The importance of 4-H is still, and will always be, extremely important,” he continued. “That’s why it is today – and has been for many years – the largest youth development organization in this country. There is a need for young people to learn by doing. I expect that 4-H will continue to evolve and develop ways for young people to experience by doing by actual hands-on learning as our society and technology advances.”