Originally published for University of Missouri Extension.

 

“In good times, 4‑H is a wonderful resource to help develop the youth of America and around the world. In hard times, like what we’re going to feel through this crisis and into the coming recession, that value expands exponentially,” said Richard Maltsbarger, president and CEO of Pet Retail Brands, a multinational pet products company.

Maltsbarger is also a 4‑H alumnus from Pettis County, Missouri, and member of National 4‑H Council’s board of trustees.

In response to COVID-19, National 4‑H Council launched the FOURWARD Fund to provide educational resources and funds to help support local clubs and extension. “I’m proud of all the ways in which 4‑H is adapting so quickly,” Maltsbarger said.

As a kid, Maltsbarger had worked on small engine projects in 4‑H, developing skills he still uses today. He said those experiences “really began some of the first embryonic stages of understanding the place I could possibly have in a much broader world than just Pettis County, Missouri.”

He emphasizes the importance of the 4‑H pledge(opens in new window). “When you include the words ‘world’ and ‘country,’ the fact that you are making a commitment that stretches out to all of the world, that was a big moment for me as a kid,” Maltsbarger recalled.

“The activities and the work that we did in agriculture in real life, even in small-town Missouri, were tied into a broader world economy,” he said.

Maltsbarger decided to attend the University of Missouri because of how university extension helped to make 4‑H possible. “I took the same spirit of 4‑H and started teaching myself how to program computers,” he said. “Ultimately, my first job was working on a computer program at Farmland Industries.”

4‑H gives children confidence and helps them understand that they have the ability to learn new skills, he said. “If I can do that, I can do this; for me, that was computer programming.”

Today, Maltsbarger runs a company that distributes food and supplies for more than 125 million pets. “I love what I do, I love the opportunity to go into our stores every day and work with people that are just like my family. We work to serve people who love their pets,” he said.

“The most important thing I learned from 4‑H was that you have potential, and that potential can expand to any size community and any place in the world,” Maltsbarger said.

His advice to 4‑H’ers is to not lose the essence of the pledge in the way they continue to live life as an adult.

“I’m proud to be a part of 4‑H,” Maltsbarger said. “I’m proud to be a part of the team that helps understand what we can do to expand the resources and the reach of 4‑H every day.”