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Maui-born woman named to National 4-H Hall of Fame

Helene Zeug’s decades of service recognized

Helene Zeug will be inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame. The only other Hawaii resident in the Hall of Fame is astronaut Ellison Onizuka. Photos courtesy of the National 4-H Hall of Fame Committee and Mark Zeug

With more than four decades of service, Maui-born Helene Horimoto Zeug will be inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame — only the second person ever from Hawaii.

The other Hawaii person in the 4-H Hall of Fame is astronaut Ellison Onizuka, who was killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger accident in 1986.

Zeug, 79, spent 41 years working for the University of Hawaii Extension Service as a 4-H agent in Honolulu and later as Associate State 4-H Leader before retiring in 2004.

The 4-H program, which is more than a century old, is a youth development organization that serves 6 million kids, teens and their families nationwide. The research-based programs focus on leadership, citizenship, communication and life skills, as well as hands-on learning with science, engineering and agriculture.

“I think one of the best ways to describe her is she’s a very can-do kind of a person,” said husband Mark Zeug on Thursday afternoon. “Obstacles didn’t really stop her.”

Jon Hagen (left), Hawaii 4-H Foundation president, and Helene Zeug accept a donation to the Hawaii 4-H Foundation from Robert Pfeiffer, chairman and CEO of Alexander & Baldwin. Zeug was responsible for more than $500,000 in gifts to support the Hawaii 4-H program.

Being named to the 4-H Hall of Fame is quite an honor. There are 4-H programs in every state and each one is allowed one nomination per year. Only about 15 people are inducted annually.

Astronaut Onizuka of Hawaii island, who was actually nominated by Helene Zeug, was the previous Hawaii inductee in the 2002 Hall of Fame class.

Helene Zeug was born and raised in Waihee and is a St. Anthony High School graduate. The mother of two has lived on Oahu throughout her professional career but still has a lot of family on Maui.

Over the past few years, Helene Zeug has been battling advanced Parkinson’s disease and Parkinson’s related dementia. Still, the memory of her 4-H experience as a youth on Maui remains vivid most days, her husband said.

During a phone interview Thursday, Helene Zeug told The Maui News of a 4-H program T-shirt she cherishes and wears as often as she can, and said she enjoyed her time as an agent and met many wonderful students along the way.

Helene Zeug (in white) is shown as a Hawaii 4-H delegate to the National 4-H Conference in Washington, D.C., in 1960.

She also still remembers her childhood 4-H leader, Gladys Lai, whom she admired and lived close to in Waihee.

In offering her nomination to the National 4-H Hall of Fame Committee, Mark Zeug and Hawaii 4-H Program Leader Jeff Goodwin wrote about how she has “left a lasting legacy of 4-H activism and community outreach in Hawaii.”

Goodwin said she was the clear choice to represent Hawaii.

“We had to make sure we put forth our best nomination,” Goodwin said in a phone interview. “When I looked around, there was nobody else but Helene to be that nomination. . . . There was no choice that needed to be made, it was a pretty easy pick for us.

“I’ve always known she was an important part of the 4-H program.”

Helene Zeug is set to be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Oct. 2 in Washington, D.C., along with 16 other inductees if COVID-19 does not thwart those plans. Officials have discussed moving the ceremony to an online platform, as well as honoring the 2020 class next year alongside the 2021 inductees.

The Hall of Fame recognizes 4-H volunteers, extension professionals, staff members, donors and others who have made a significant impact on the 4-H program and members.

“These individuals have touched the lives of many people, from 4-H staff and colleagues to thousands of 4-H volunteers and members throughout the nation,” Jeannette Rea Keywood, chairwoman of the National 4-H Hall of Fame, said in a news release last month.

During Helene Zeug’s decades of service, she was selected a National 4-H Fellow and earned awards from both the National Association of Extension Home Economists and the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents.

Mark Zeug said his wife is notable for “constantly recruiting leaders” into the 4-H program.

She joined the Waihee Girls 4-H club at age 9, became a junior leader and club leader, and then was elected Campus Collegiate 4-H club president while a student at UH-Manoa.

She was selected as a Hawaii delegate to the National 4-H Club Congress in 1960 and was one of four from Hawaii selected to attend the National 4-H Conference in Washington, D.C., that same year.

She earned a master’s in family life and human development from the University of Maryland, and a doctorate in human development from UH before finishing her credits at Newport University in California.

Mark Zeug, who is a former public relations manager for Alexander & Baldwin and USA Track & Field Hawaii Association president, said he met Helene while in Maryland and “the rest is history.”

They celebrated their 50-year anniversary last month.

“She earned her Ph.D. while working full time and raising two kids and a husband,” he said with a laugh.

After returning to Hawaii, Helene Zeug began her professional career in 1963 as a 4-H specialist in Honolulu and brought education to rural and urban communities. In 1985, she moved to the state office to become Associate State 4-H Program leader acting as a state leader for several years before retiring in 2004.

“If anyone deserved to be in the position as a state leader, it was Helene,” Mark Zeug said. “She created program materials and program ideas that didn’t exist before.”

During her time as a 4-H specialist, her Honolulu district led the state in 4-H members, program involvement and leadership achievement, he said.

She authored or co-authored many program materials, served as coordinator of the Hawaii 4-H LABO (language) exchange with Japan, started one of the first urban 4-H programs in the country that focused on inner city areas of Honolulu, and established 4-H clubs for handicapped youth at the Diamond Head and Pohukaina schools.

Helene Zeug also was a prime mover in establishing the Hawaii 4-H Alumni Association in 1983, a nonprofit organization that annually provides monetary support for Hawaii’s delegation to the National 4-H Congress, the National 4-H Conference and the Hawaii State 4-H Conference.

Helene Zeug also led a fundraising effort that brought in more than $500,000 in endowments for both the Hawaii 4-H Foundation and the Hawaii 4-H Alumni Association.

Her other accomplishments include launching and editing “For a Lifetime,” an annual magazine about 4-H in Hawaii, and writing a history of the Hawaii 4-H Program, which started in 1918.

Until three or four years ago, Helene Zeug volunteered as a track and field official both locally and nationally for 15 years. She also served on both the Hawaii Girl Scouts and Hawaii Farm Fair boards of directors, as well as assisted with the Hawaii Senior Olympics and Aloha State Games.

She told The Maui News on Thursday that her favorite part about officiating running events was watching athletes sprint to the finish line.

Helene Zeug continues to be an active member of the Hawaii 4-H Foundation and the Hawaii 4-H Alumni Association.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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