Her love of 4-H surely was planted the day the 3-year-old was plopped onto the back of her sister’s steer, yet Mary Wavra Harmon’s casual introduction blossomed into a life-long career and passion touching generations of Imperial Valley youth during her 16 years of service as the Imperial County cooperative’s extension advisor.
Born in Brawley and raised in the countryside on Kalin Road, Mary attended Sacred Heart Catholic School and graduated from Brawley Union High in 1971. As a member of a pioneering family that moved to Imperial Valley in 1908, her proclivity towards agriculture and raising animals came naturally.
“Ag’s been in our family forever,” she says.
Her mother, Clara Hovley Wavra, was the youngest of 11 children. Born in 1913, she came from hardy stock and her strong, independent pioneer background gave her the backbone to care for her family after her husband died when Mary was 5.
With seven children to rear alone, Clara picked 4-H as the extracurricular activity for all her kids and became involved as a leader. As Mary explains, it was much easier to house animal projects and lead meetings at their own home rather than ferry seven children to different sports and activities.
“Mom was a leader. We were all going in one direction — with seven kids, she picked one club we could all go into.”
“Some of my oldest memories are of kids coming over for 4-H field trips,” Mary remembers. She was 10 when she formally joined her own 4-H club — but she started informally as a toddler who shadowed her siblings while they worked on their projects. Her involvement with 4-H continued all the way through high school, culminating in the highest county award offered by the program, the All-Star Award.
She enrolled in Imperial Valley College shortly after graduation and attended for one year before transferring to University of California, San Diego for one year to study psychology. After taking an aptitude test that leaned towards a recreation-based career, she enrolled in San Diego State University where she earned her bachelor’s in recreation administration in 1976.
That summer, she served as a 4-H intern in the San Diego County UC Cooperative Extension under Tony Hauser, a man she says taught her most of what she knows about running 4-H.
Read more about Mary Harmon in the September/October 2011 edition of Valley Women Magazine in print or our online E-Edition.