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Our Illinois 4-H Story

A boy named "Oak"

Oak seedings in buckets.

Oak Leaf.   Why would the Leaf parents of such a big, strong baby boy name him Oak? That’s seems like a lot of responsibility for a youngster to handle throughout his long life ahead. But Oak was full of potential. Oak knew the future held many uncertainties and challenges, but he represented hope and resiliency.  Young Oak was ready for the journey and up to the task.

The Leaf name is Scandinavian in ancestry, but Oak is native to his home state of Illinois. In fact, large groups of oaks used to live in loosely grouped areas throughout the state called savannahs. The expansive carpet of tall grasses that lived all around and under the savannahs were habitats enjoyed by throngs of bison and countless other forms of wildlife. The oak savannahs identified pre-settlement Illinois.

Oak himself is now planted. He is quite young, but he will not be easily unearthed from his current location now for the rest of his long life. But regardless, the impact he will make is huge. He can hold down the precious, unreplaceable, fertile soils beneath him for more than a century. Oak feels his roots growing deeper and spreading out even beyond his higher outward reach.

Oak knows he’s the envy of many. He knows that in time he will be a landmark, and example of greatness and longevity if fate stays on his side. Oak has plans. Oak wants to supply homes for his very diverse outdoor friends, which are many. Oak wants to supply food for them along the way. Oak wants to be the gathering place providing a cool respite from the Illinois summer heat and a shelter during a savage thunderstorm and impending strong winter winds. Oak wants to multiply and seed a large group of future trees.  

Oak Leaf is indeed a character. He hums a tune in the Illinois wind nearly every day. His veins are pinnate, meaning they branch and then re-branch to transfer his energy to the very tips of his being. Oak is not quick to grow, but instead he represents something solid which can be counted on for as far into the future as one can imagine.  

Comfort comes to all that have someone like Oak in their lives as anything that can always be counted on is a rare commodity. But Oak is totally committed to his purpose and does so with beauty in every season along the way.  

Illinois 4-H is in its third year of working with the Illinois Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts in providing over 1,000 oak seedlings for 4-H members to establish oak savannahs on public properties in their communities.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Curt Sinclair is the 4-H Youth Development Extension Specialist for Shooting Sports and Environmental Education. He received his B.S. in Forestry from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in 1982 and his Master's in Recreation Resource Administration from North Carolina State University in 1988.