It takes hundreds of dedicated volunteers to make the annual Linn County 4-H and FFA Fair runs smoothly — rain or shine.
But Sherm and Fay Sallee are probably the only volunteers so committed to 4-H programs they actually designed their home to include large rooms that allow not one, but two 4-H meetings to be held simultaneously.
“We built it in 1985 when Sherm retired from the Air Force,” Fay said. “We will have 4-H project meetings at our home at least three days a week.”
Their club? The Clever Clovers, officially so named in 1987, but in business since 1985 as the Hamilton Creek Forestry Club.
Sherm Sallee grew up in eastern Oregon and worked on his grandparents’ farm near Wallowa. He wasn’t involved in 4-H, but learned how to work at a young age.
“I was just 11 years old when I got a job as a pinsetter at the local bowling alley,” Sallee said. “I worked for two years before the owner said I had to go because I was underage.”
4-H runs in Fay Sallee's blood. Her parents, the former Bert and Betty Udell — owners of Udell Engineering and Happy Valley Tree Farm — were ardent 4-H supporters.
The couple met at Oregon State University. Sherm graduated in 1965. Fay would graduated that year as well, but she spent six months in Nepal as part of an international agricultural exchange program.
“I lived with 12 different families over six months,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience.”
Fay graduated in 1966, the couple married and thus began their military life of traveling for the next 20 years.
“Every place we lived we got involved with 4-H,” Fay said. “We learned about 4-H programs in Alabama, Delaware, Ohio and Florida.”
Fay and their daughter Christy lived at Adair Village while Sherm was stationed in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969.
“I sent him lots of pictures of Christy,” Fay said.
The Sallees said their favorite part of being involved with 4-H is watching the kids grow.
“They start off so timid and by the end of their second year, they are already trying to team the newbies,” Sherm said.
Fay added that the Clever Clovers club is designed so that all members of a family can have their projects under one banner. Their 45-acre tree farm provides an array of outdoor educational opportunities.
“We like having the older kids working with the younger kids,” Fay said of their club’s structure.
The Sallees are leaders for general science, forestry and photography projects.
Their family is in its fourth generation of 4-H: her mother was a 4-H leader and the Sallees’ grandchildren are 4-H members today.
The Sallees said they are enjoying watching 4-H projects change over the decades.
“We are seeing many more projects that focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math —while the natural sciences seem to be done in other counties,” Fay said. “We also have several kids in the club who are home-schooled. We have meetings in the afternoons.”
Several generations are now Clever Clover alumni. Grandchildren of former members are now club members and their grandparents are club and fair volunteers.
Sherm said the 4-H and FFA programs teach discipline and respect.
“The other day, we had some teenage boys in here helping set up for the fair,” Sherm said. “I wrote down what needed to go where and they took care of it without a problem. It’s part of being in 4-H and FFA.”
The Sallees plan to continue with their commitment to 4-H and the fair for at least another year, which will mark their 50th anniversary as leaders and volunteers.
“We have past club members who tell us we can’t quit until their kids are done,” Fay said. “Now, they say we can’t quit until their grandkids are done. It has been so much fun.”
Fair director Randy Porter thinks highly of the hardworking and dedicated couple.
“Sherm and Fay have been tireless supporters of the fair for many years,” Porter said. “It has always been a pleasure to work with them.”
“I am amazed at how dedicated to 4-H the Sallees are,” said Andrea Leao of the Linn County Extension Service. “Their entire house and property is set up with a focus on 4-H. I’ve been to their club’s Christmas party and it is truly a family affair.”
Leao said she has appreciated working with the Sallees because they are so willing to share their knowledge and skills, but also because they bring new ideas to their club’s programs.
“They have many new ideas, but they also keep their science programs going strong,” Leao said.