Eppelheimers create fund to support 4-H Exploration Days

One of the country’s largest multi-day 4-H events, 4-H Exploration Days returned for its 51st year in June 2022. A new endowment created by Donald and Linda Eppelheimer will provide 4-H Exploration Days with perpetual funding for years to come.

Group of 4-H'ers at the 2022 4-H Exploration Days event in a residence hall at Michigan State University.

Each summer, many Michigan 4-H’ers look forward to 4-H Exploration Days, a three-day precollege program held on the campus of Michigan State University (MSU). One of the country’s largest multi-day 4-H youth events, 4-H Exploration Days returned for its 51st year from June 22-24, 2022, after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

“We were so excited to be able to offer 4-H Exploration Days back on campus once again this year,” said Julie Chapin, Ph.D., state 4-H leader and director of MSU Extension’s Children and Youth Institute. “As one of our signature statewide 4-H programs, youth are able to explore their future, try new things and experience college life while gaining confidence and independence through hands-on learning and making friends for a lifetime.”

David Eppelheimer

To ensure there is perpetual support for future generations of Michigan 4-H youth to experience this signature 4-H event, Donald and Linda Eppelheimer, of Crossville, Tennessee, established the David Eppelheimer 4-H Exploration Days Fund. The endowment is in memory of Donald’s brother, David Eppelheimer, who served as a volunteer in the 4-H Exploration Days headquarters for more than 15 years. David also attended 4-H Exploration Days nearly every year — either as a participant, chaperone, conference assistant or headquarters staff member — until his death in 2017.

“It is important that we continue to support programs that test the mettle of tomorrow’s leaders. 4-H Exploration Days might be the first step in that direction and is worthy of our support,” said Don Eppelheimer. “We all strive and hope that Exploration Days has distilled and combined the best of this array of earlier programs.”

“It is important that we continue to support programs that test the mettle of tomorrow’s leaders. 4-H Exploration Days might be the first step in that direction and is worthy of our support.”DONALD EPPELHEIMER

The Eppelheimers were active 4-H’ers in their youth, first as members of the Branch County Blue Ribbon 4-H Club led by Dale and Elizabeth AcMoody. They then relocated to Newaygo County where they were involved with the Lucky 4-H Club led by Mrs. Don Brink and their mother, Phyllis Eppelheimer, and the Hexapoda 4-H Club, also led by their mother. Their father, Marvin Eppelheimer, was a 4-H youth agent in Eaton, Branch and Newaygo counties until his retirement in 1976.

“When your father is a 4-H youth agent and your mother is a 4-H club leader and the nature program director at 4-H camp, you’re sort of in it,” Don said.

He recalls growing up in a 4-H family of three boys (Donald, David and Chad), “One bedroom had an observation hive with live honeybees, one bedroom had a terrarium with Brazilian cockroaches and the last bedroom was a rodent zoo.”

“As a family, we enjoyed nature and 4-H was an avenue to share that experience with others. I recall midnight stakeouts at Newaygo County’s only willow prairie hunting for Luna moths, farm visits to weigh-in cattle for a weight gain project and much more,” he said.

The Eppelheimers often attended 4-H camp, the State 4-H Show and Youth Week.

“A common thread through all three is team building,” Don said. “Hearing someone else’s views on life events is intriguing. Learning to compose and express how you perceive past or future events is a preliminary step to leadership, or at a minimum, compassion for others.”

“4-H activities help build self-awareness and confidence.”

“4-H activities help build self-awareness and confidence.”DONALD EPPELHEIMER

As a teen, David founded an entomology club for the youth too young to join 4-H (now called Cloverbuds). He also participated in a statewide insect collection and pest identification project with Michigan State University. By using a circular black light and a fan trap, flying nighttime insects were captured and sent weekly to MSU entomologists. A weekly newsletter would alert fruit growers and crop farmers of an outbreak of insect pests.

Following his years as a 4-H youth member, David continued his 4-H involvement as an active 4-H volunteer for more than 25 years, contributing to county, state and national 4-H programs. He served as a 4-H volunteer leader in Ottawa County, an adviser to the Kent County 4-H Teen Club for seven years and served as the Kent County 4-H Council president. He also co-chaired the planning committee for the 1986 4-H North Central Regional Leaders’ Forum in Michigan and served on the statewide 4-H entomology developmental committee.

In 2004, David was honored for his 4-H service as a member of the 4-H Emerald Clover Society, the Michigan 4-H alumni hall of fame.

For this honor, David shared how his 4-H involvement contributed to his professional and personal success:

“Whether it is my career or my avocations, I have always responded to an urge to contribute my time, talents and resources. I know this is the fruit of the volunteer ethic I learned through 4-H…I firmly believe I learned how to be an effective classroom leader through 4-H teen leadership, camp counseling and state-level 4-H events. 4-H was the laboratory where I perfected my interpersonal skills and time management skills. It is also where I learned to be a compassionate citizen and to value diversity. 4-H was my classroom for learning to set and achieve goals. My achievements in 4-H established a solid sense of self-worth and potential that has never left me,” David Eppelheimer wrote.

David enjoyed teaching and working with youth so much that he became a kindergarten teacher for Coopersville Area Public Schools. He graduated from MSU with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1976 and a master’s degree in 1984. He also taught in Guatemala, Belize and the Dominican Republic for two years before teaching at Coopersville. In addition to his distinguished teaching career, he was internationally known for his expertise in Christmas antiques. As a partner in the Elves Antiques business in Grand Rapids, he has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, Country Living, Victoria magazine and the Grand Rapids Press. He was also a guest on “Martha Stewart Living” and spoke on his success as an entrepreneur at the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership conference in 1998. Additionally, he served 10 years on the board of directors and as editor of “Golden Glow of Christmas Past,” the international association of antique Christmas ornaments and decorations. He was also a strong community servant. His historic home was featured for the Heritage Hill Homes Tour in Grand Rapids, and he was a Children in Worship Leader for the Westminster Presbyterian Church.