Sometimes greatness comes in a very small package, wrapped in humility and gentleness.
An Illinois 4-H supporter has been honored with the nation’s top 4-H award, the National 4-H Hall of Fame Award which recognizes individuals who have made a signification impact on the 4-H program and 4-H members through their contribution of time, talent, energy, and financial resources.
Lila Jeanne Eichelberger will be inducted into the 2016 Hall of Fame class. Known as “Shorty” around the University of Illinois campus because of her small 5-foot frame, Eichelberger stands as a giant among her peers for her philanthropic efforts to support 4-H and the university. Her storied 4-H background traces back to her mother’s volunteer 4-H leadership and continues to this day as member emeritus of the Illinois 4-H Foundation Board of Directors and supporter of several 4-H endeavors.
“Rarely has Illinois 4-H seen an individual make such a lifelong impact on the lives of young people as has Lila Jeanne,” said Angie Barnard, Illinois 4-H Foundation executive director. “A woman of remarkable grace, Lila Jeanne tirelessly campaigns with her time, energy, and financial resources to the advancement of Illinois 4-H, 4-H Memorial Camp, 4-H House, University of Illinois, and Illini Sports.”
For more than 80 years, Eichelberger has proudly worn her flagship 4-H green and paid it forward for the advancement of youth, Barnard said. “She has been a constant inspiration to the Illinois 4-H Foundation Board of Directors for the past 33 years, first as a board member, and continuing as a lifetime member-emeritus.”
She has made financial gifts to U of I and Illinois 4-H every year for 50 years. In total, her giving to 4-H alone exceeds $2 million. In 2000, she created an endowment to honor her late mother, a 50-year 4-H leader. Today, she continues to add value with an estate commitment which will endow the Margarette E. Athey 4-H Adult Volunteer Leader Development Fund at over a quarter-million dollars.
“The instant you meet Lila Jeanne Eichelberger, your personal definition of ‘genuineness’ is shattered and the bar is raised higher than you had it before,” said Curt Sinclair, 4-H Memorial Camp director. “Nothing in the mile-long list of her accomplishments is self-serving. My personal experience with her is entwined by our common belief in the incredible power 4-H camping programs can have in the lives of young people, both campers and counselors,” Sinclair said. “Her purely genuine spirit of the 4-H pledge; that of head, heart, hands, and health, mentor us all.”