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 Gardens 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 Gardens 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 Gardens 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.”
In 1951, business and educational leaders gathered to explore the need for an organization “to help procure financial aid for the needs of an expanded 4-H program,” as stated in the minutes of the Sept. 22, 1951, meeting of the Friends of 4-H. The committee met again in February 1952 to establish the articles of incorporation and bylaws for the Michigan 4-H Foundation. The articles were filed on April 25, 1952.
On May 27, 1952, the first meeting of the Michigan 4-H Foundation featured a ceremonial signing of the “Founders Scroll” by the six incorporators and charter members. The six incorporators were Joseph H. Alexanian, Joseph C. Cahill, H.J. Gallagher, Milon Grinnell, George A. Haggerty and Arne G. Kettunen. The first 15 trustees and officers were subsequently elected to the board of trustees.
Sixty-five years later, the Michigan 4-H Foundation is a $9.49 million 501(c)(3) fundraising organization led by a 30-member board of trustees.
Highlights of 65 years
After four years of existence, in 1956 the board launches the Camp Kett Campaign, its first major fundraising campaign. By 1957, the foundation acquires nearly 140 acres of property with frontage on Center Lake in Osceola County for the construction of Camp Kett. A cornerstone ceremony is held Sept. 17, 1960 to dedicate the camp in honor of Arne G. Kettunen, who died in 1959. In 1961, Camp Kett opens as the nation’s first 4-H conference center.
In 1972, Camp Kett is renamed Kettunen Center. The Detroit 4-H Center also opens that year launching a major Michigan 4-H urban programming initiative. The 4-H Proud Equestrians Program – therapeutic horseback riding – begins in 1974. By 1977, the Kettunen Center Improvement Project is launched to update facilities. And, in 1979, the 4-H Mainstreaming Project is funded with major grants from the C.S. Mott and W.K. Kellogg foundations – the largest grant to a state 4-H program at the time.
In 1980, an earth-sheltered home is constructed at Kettunen Center as the residence for the Kettunen Center director. By 1984, the Michigan 4-H Foundation begins to help county 4-H programs establish funds. 1987 marked the gift of Tollgate Center to MSU for use as a 4-H education center is supported by an additional grant from the Americana Foundation to the Michigan 4-H Foundation. In 1988, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation grants $2.16 million to fund the “SPACES: Preparing Kids for a High-Tech and Global Future” initiative for early adolescent development.This same year Kettunen Center begins offering 4-H environmental and outdoor education programs (formerly called 4-H TRACKERS).
The Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden opens in 1993 on the campus of Michigan State University as the first youth-focused garden located on a university campus. In 1994, Vision 2021: Campaign for Kettunen Center is launched. This $2.5 million campaign improved facilities (including the Red Oak wing addition and the Mawby Learning Center), grounds and 4-H environmental programs. The Polish Connections project is initiated in 1995, resulting in 4-H programs in Poland and the Michigan 4-H Foundation becoming the fund development model for the creation of the Polish 4-H Foundation. In 1998, the Michigan 4-H Youth Conservation Council is established.
The Campaign for 4-H is launched July 1, 2000. The campaign, which concluded in 2007, raised over $10 million, exceeding previous capital campaign totals by more than $7 million. In 2001, the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation funds the Dow Connected Gardens Project. The Alice Mahoney estate gift for the 4-H Children’s Garden is also the largest estate gift to date that year. In 2002, Michigan opens the national 4-H centennial year with the Michigan Conversation on Youth Development. Celebration events took place throughout the year and included a family reunion, gala, tailgate and the induction of the inaugural class of the 4-H Emerald Clover Society. In 2003, the Indoor Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden opens, providing year-round educational access to science-based learning. Beginning in 2006 several groups launch campaigns to establish endowments for Michigan 4-H. They include the the funds for 4-H international programs, Michigan Farm Bureau 4-H Excellence in Agriculture, Michigan 4-H volunteer recognition and the multi-focused fund created by the Michigan Division of the Woman’s National Farm & Garden Association (WNF&GA). In 2008, the Pete and Sally Smith Schoolyard Demonstration Garden opens. This 2,500-square-foot addition to the outdoor Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden offers ideas for creating gardens in small spaces. In 2008, Kettunen Center is certified as a Green Lodging Michigan Partner by the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth and in 2009, upgraded to a Green Lodging Michigan Steward.
The $12.5 million Campaign for Michigan 4-H’s Future begins July 1, 2011. The Make the Match County 4-H Endowment Campaign is launched in 2013 with the goal of increasing 4-H philanthropy by local 4-H family support. Matching funds were offered for counties to grow local 4-H endowments. In 2014, the first Town and Country Gala is held in Grand Rapids, marking the public launch of the Campaign for Michigan 4-H’s Future and featuring the 4-H Emerald Awards recognition. Later that year, the Michigan 4-H Foundation receives the single largest gift to date – a $3.85 million estate gift comprising a $1.85 million cash and a $2 million property distribution from the Mary (Sally) and Donovan (Pete) Smith trusts. Bathrooms are built in the outdoor Michigan 4-H Children’s Gardens in 2015.