CORVALLIS, Ore. - The long-term strength and stability of Baker County's 4-H program for youth has received a major boost through a challenge gift establishing the county's first endowed professorship.

Lee and Connie (Howard) Kearney will match up to $500,000 in gifts for the Janice Cowan Baker County 4-H Professorship endowment, providing a perpetual source of support for a full-time faculty member leading 4-H programs in the county.

The endowment is named for Oregon State University faculty member Janice Cowan, who is retiring following 25 years of service with 4-H and Baker County.

The Kearneys, who live in Vancouver, Washington, are among OSU's most active volunteer leaders and generous philanthropists. A retired attorney, Connie (Howard) Kearney grew up in Baker County, where she participated in 4-H. She serves as treasurer on the Oregon 4-H Foundation Board of Trustees.

As the only nationwide youth development program with direct ties to the land grant university system, 4-H is uniquely positioned to ensure that its programs evolve and align with the most current knowledge about how young people develop and learn. In Baker County, 4-H has served youth for more than 110 years.

In addition to traditional 4-H programming such as raising animals, camping, and cooking, Baker County has become known for innovative programs including Field to Fork, in which more than 200 participants each year learn about where their food comes from. Along with other eastern Oregon counties, Baker County 4-H also offers college and career readiness camps to help youth succeed after high school.

The Janice Cowan Baker County 4-H Professorship will support high-impact programs like these and others, such as school garden projects, after-school activities and increased opportunities for youth to engage in statewide programs.

When she was a teen, a statewide 4-H summer conference first brought Connie (Howard) Kearney to the OSU campus, where she would later go to college and meet Lee, her future husband.

"4-H played a pivotal role in my life. 4-H taught me how to cook, sew and can," she said. "We believe an endowment is the best way to ensure that funds are always available to support leadership for these young people. We hope our challenge grant will encourage others to financially support Baker County 4-H."

The endowed professorship is the third for Oregon 4-H, all created by donors in the last three years. Other recent gifts have created programmatic endowments for county 4-H programs.

"We've seen all over the country that 4-H programs are vulnerable to cuts in public funding," said Pamela Rose, state 4-H program leader. "That's why an endowment is so incredibly important - it provides a long-lasting legacy of support. We're deeply grateful for the Kearneys' inspiring generosity and leadership."

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Story By: 

Molly Brown,, 541-737-3602


Pamela Rose,, 541-737-4628