The first 4H club in Hennepin County was a tomato club for 30 boys and girls that began in 1911 in Excelsior.

Bill Svendsgaard discovered that bit of history as he began assembling a book on the 100th anniversary of 4H in Hennepin County.

"That intrigued me because I know a lot of the history of 4H, and girls had their separate clubs. And the very first club in Hennepin was not separate," he said.

As Hennepin County celebrates 100 years of 4H, Svendsgaard -- who served as the Hennepin County 4H extension educator for 26 years before retiring in 2002 -- is unearthing the club's past. His past, really.

"I grew up in northern Minnesota on a farm and was a 4H club member there for about 13 years. So it's in my blood," he said.

"I want to get to the cause, the roots, the reasons behind what happened from a historical point of view ... My focus is on how 4H made an impact on individual lives, on community."

A 4H reunion and centennial celebration at the Hennepin County Fair in June was a perfect opportunity for Svendsgaard, who now lives in St. Louis Park, to do some research for the book.

Before the fair, Svendsgaard sent out fliers and e-mails inviting former 4H members to bring photos and memorabilia to the event.

"It becomes contagious and people are starting to say, 'Well, I know somebody,'" he said. "Little by little, I will be collecting a lot of good, juicy history!"

Now he is pursuing every lead he can find, and plans to give himself two years to complete the book.

Last year, Svendsgaard published "Mavie -- A Ghost Town Lives On," a book about Mavie, Minn., another effort that required a great deal of historical research.

"It sort of seasoned me to know how to go about and collect all the history," he said. "I think I'll be able to do the same here with this project."

The National 4H Council has asked Svendsgaard to present a history preservation workshop at the National 4H Conference in Omaha in October.

"A lot of states have done archival work, trying to get ahold of their past. But as far as they know, I'm the first person doing it for a county history," he said.

Westside 4H leader Amy Scherer and Lynn Ogard, a computer technology specialist for the Hennepin County extension office, will help Svendsgaard in his research. Scherer is assembling a contact database and analyzing data.

"It's really exciting. I know he made a lot of contacts and I think we need to promote it more," Scherer said.

Flo Larson, recently retired leader of the Victory Robbins 4H Club, is also assisting Svendsgaard.

"She has a wealth of information," Svensgaard said. "Her mother was one of the charter 4H people in the country."

Anyone with stories, photos, minutes from club meetings, event programs or other documentation is asked to contact Svendsgaard at or at 952-546-2850.

Mara Van Ells is a Twin Cities freelance writer.