Photo providedSen. Mike Delph presents a Sagamore of the Wabash award to 4-H leaders Beth Michaels (left) and Valerie Gelwicks.
Photo provided

Sen. Mike Delph presents a Sagamore of the Wabash award to 4-H leaders Beth Michaels (left) and Valerie Gelwicks.
Hamilton County 4-H Mudsockers' club leaders Valerie Gelwicks and Beth Michaels didn't have a clue that anything sneaky was going on at the January club meeting.

Even when I showed up with my camera. Even when more than a normal number of 4-H club members showed up. And even when Sen. Mike Delph arrived, dressed in his suit.

First of all, Gelwicks and Michaels were told to dress up a little because I was doing a story on the club. So maybe that's why the leaders could have assumed that more 4-H'ers were in attendance. And Sen. Delph was there because his daughters, Lilly and Emma Delph, are members of the club.

When Delph walked in, one of the leaders asked, "Shouldn't you be at the State of the State?" to Delph's reply, "Yes, but something important might be going tonight."

And there was something important that night at the 4-H club meeting.

Sen. Delph stood in front of the 4-H'ers. He started talking about former Gov. Mike Pence's visit in 2015 to the 4-H Fair. Our readers might also recall when Pence - who on Friday was inaugurated as vice president of the United States - was photographed in The Times showing a goat in the Fair's beginner showman goat competition. He also showed llamas.

But most memorable to 4-H'ers was Pence's visit to the Mudsockers' 4-H Food Tent, where he was introduced to their famous "Muddy Chicken" chocolate-pudding desserts. Mudsockers do a "Muddy Chicken" dance for every customer who orders the pudding.

"He was touched and he still talks about that," Sen. Delph said.

The leaders laughed but still didn't have any suspicions of what would come next.

Sen. Delph called Gelwicks and Michaels to the front. He kept talking while handing them each a large, navy blue folder made of heavy-weight construction paper, with gold lettering on the front.

"Don't look at it yet," he instructed.

Then, drum roll, please..... He said, "You both have been awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash, the highest honor that Gov. Pence could bestow upon you."

You should have seen the leaders' faces when they opened their folders. It was an emotional moment. Their eyes got big, and their mouths stood open in amazement. 4-H'ers cheered. Family, friends and 4-H'ers snapped photos. It was a celebration.

Delph, who nominated them for the award, said, "Both Beth and Valerie have dedicated their lives to volunteerism with 4-H. They've spent so much time teaching young people and helping young people engage in 4-H. I think Gov. Pence, (then) vice-president elect Pence, recognized that. This was not a tough sell to the Governor. He was incredibly impressed when he came by the 4-H Fair a couple of years ago and visited the Mudsockers' booth."

He added, "It's my honor to be here tonight to present this. It's one of the fun parts of my job, when I get to help honor deserving people."

They were speechless. "I read about these in the obituaries all of the time. Never, in a million years, would I thought ....," Gelwicks said.

"I'm definitely tweeting this. This is very, very, very cool," Michaels said.

Gelwicks said, "It makes you want to do the "(Muddy) Chicken" dance."

In their 11 years as co-leaders, Gelwicks and Michaels have organized compelling activities, from nursing-home visits to the gathering of donations for Operation Christmas Child.

Gelwicks has coordinated skit rehearsals for the 4-H Share-the-Fun talent show, kept project records for the club of more than 100 members. She served on the County 4-H Council. Outside of 4-H, she has been a chairperson for Statewide Home School Graduation and assisted in the selection of scholarship recipients. She is a founding member of Fall Creek Community Church, where she has served as a Sunday school teacher, Vacation Bible School director, Children's Christmas Pageant director, women's Bible study group leader and governing board member. She has also taught group home-school classes in chemistry, literature, speech history and economics for Pilgrims in Progress Home School Cooperative.

Michaels has been in charge of the Mudsockers' food tent during the 4-H Fair. Outside of 4-H, she is a volunteer at her church, where she has served as commander of the Awana Club, director of Vacation Bible School, a board member, toddler class and infant nursery leader and Sunday school teacher. She has served as president and treasurer of Tri Kappa philanthropic sorority, has coordinated the hospitality room at the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association and taught home-school classes in elementary science, Keepers of the Faith, speech, arts and crafts at Iron Sharpens Iron Home School Cooperative.

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