Longtime 4-H leader to step down, serve as church pastor

Sarah Eames | The Daily Star Retiring Otsego County 4-H program coordinator Patti Zellmer is shown Thursday, March 12, at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Office in Cooperstown.

Longtime Otsego County 4-H program coordinator Patti Zellmer has announced she will retire from the organization at the end of next month.

“My season at 4-H is coming to an end,” she wrote in the March edition of the Otsego County 4-H newsletter, quoting Ecclesiastes 3:1 and the Pete Seeger song it inspired: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

“Although my retirement may seem like a surprise, it’s a new season for me,” she continued.

Zellmer, an ordained elder in the Free Methodist Church, said she will serve as a full-time associate pastor at New Life Oneonta.

A Wisconsin native, Zellmer moved to New York in 1984 and began her 4-H career as the first female program leader in Sullivan County, where she worked until 2001.

In 1995, Zellmer said, she became the pastor at New Hope Community Church in Walton, where she served until 2000.

“I always knew I was going to come back to ministry,” Zellmer said. “I just didn’t know it was going to take 17 years.”

After a seven-year stint working as a 4-H issue leader in Ulster County, Zellmer said, she moved to Otsego County in 2011, where one of her first tasks was renovating Martin Hall, the building where 4-H members show livestock each year at the Otsego County Fair.

Martin Hall was built in 1963 as a tribute to former 4-H member David Martin, according to Zellmer.

Citing the building’s decrepit condition, members of the fair board suggested 4-H members show livestock in a different building, but Zellmer said it was important to preserve the multi-generational tradition.

“It was built using 4-H funds,” she said. “How could we leave it?”

Zellmer oversaw the expansion of the earn-an-animal program from exclusively dairy to a variety of livestock, including bees, and helped revive the Leaders Lunch and the county fair livestock auction — all part of guiding the 4-H program through changing times, she said.

“It’s about being really in-tune with what’s going on in the kids’ environment,” she said.

Zellmer said she helped bring the FIRST robotics program to students in Otsego County by introducing it first through 4-H.

“At 4-H and Cooperative Extension, we’re helping bring education to people, but we don’t have to hold the strings,” she said.

Zellmer said she takes the most pride in watching 4-H members — about 300 in two clubs in the county — grow in their confidence and their abilities.

“When you see the lights go on in young people — sometimes when they’re doing their public presentations, or speaking passionately at the county fair about their animals and their projects — just to give kids an opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said. “That’s the best part.”

Last year, Zellmer was presented with the 4-H National Meritorious Service Award for “a lifetime of meritorious service” to the organization, according to the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents.

“Patti’s added a great deal of strength to 4-H,” said Don Smyers, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Schoharie and Otsego Counties. “She’s brought years of experience to the position and we’re very appreciative of her service.”

Zellmer will be succeeded this spring by Teresa Adell, a 4-H educator in Schoharie County.

“I’ve tried to help people understand that someone new is coming in and might do things differently,” Zellmer said. “It’s a new season for us.”

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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