Of the four “H’s,” it was his “heart” that Steve Sutton gave away so willingly years ago to the youth of Tennessee.
Nearly four decades later, he is being recognized for his caring and committed effort to educate and serve thousands of young people from one end of the state to the other.
Today Sutton is receiving a prestigious award from the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents. He will be presented the U.S. Air Force Recruiting Salute Award as its National Contest Winner. He was nominated as Tennessee’s selection by its 150 NAE4-HA members, and then selected as the national winner among the 50 states.
Sutton will be honored at the NAE4-HA national conference in Phoenix, Arizona on Oct. 27. The award is based on professional accomplishments, personal involvement in 4-H, and community contributions. The award recognizes individuals who create a positive Extension image through leadership and citizenship as it relates to the development of the 4-H program.
“I’m tremendously humbled,” says Sutton. “To be selected by my peers on the state level, and then honored by our national organization among all the outstanding 4-H professionals, I’m really humbled to be considered worthy of this award,” he says.
Sutton has served for 37 years in Tennessee 4-H, currently as Director and State 4-H Leader at the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture. 4-H is the youth development program for UT Extension.
“Steve Sutton sets the standard when it comes to serving 4-H youth, and this is now being recognized nationally as he receives the top award presented to 4-H Youth Development professionals,” says Dr. Tim Cross, Dean of UT Extension. “He grew up in 4-H, then served as a county agent, a state specialist, and now a state program leader. His lifelong dedication to positive youth development is an inspiration to us all.”
Sutton was a 4-H’er as a young man growing up in Cocke County. He later volunteered his time when he coached a county 4-H Livestock Judging Team while a University of Tennessee student.
“That’s when I started to think I might do this as a career,” Sutton says.
Sutton would go on to serve as a 4-H agent in Washington County for 13 years. He has also been a State 4-H Specialist, and has worked at the State 4-H Headquarters on the UT Agriculture campus for the past 24 years.
His list of innovative projects is lengthy. He was part of a team that implemented the “Seeds of Service” program to involve 4-H’ers in community service learning projects statewide. He also provided leadership to the State 4-H “Know Your Government” program, where high school students participate in mock legislative sessions in the House and Senate Chambers in Nashville.
Sutton also founded the State 4-H Academic Conference. Here junior high 4-H members are afforded learning opportunities in animal and plant sciences under the leadership of UT professors and specialists.
After all these accomplishments, Sutton remains modest. “I have always just tried to do my job to the best of my ability,” he says now.
For the record, the remaining “H’s” are head, hands and health.