Astroth, who spent 35 years with 4-H in Kansas, Montana and Arizona, has impacted youth lives across the nation and on three continents
When a group of youth in Bozeman, Montana needed a place to ride skateboards in the 1990s, they didn’t know where to turn.
Police kept chasing them away from good local terrain, and they had nowhere else to practice their sport, one young man said in a letter to the local newspaper. So Kirk Astroth, Ph.D., a retired Arizona 4-H state program leader who was then a Montana 4-H specialist, contacted the teen with an offer.
“We’ve got all of these empty buildings in the winter down at the fairgrounds, and they all have cement floors,” Astroth, now 71, recently recalled telling the teens. “You could skate there all year round, except during the fair.”
The kids took the offer, collaborating with him on the nation’s first 4-H skateboarding program, which is still using the curriculum they wrote. They eventually built a mobile ramp they could tow around to other communities for exhibitions.
It’s the kind out-of-the box thinking that got Astroth inducted into he National 4-H Hall of Fame on October 8 at a ceremony in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Nominated by National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Professionals, the 2018 retiree was one of 13 inductees in 2023, according to a news release.
“We are proud to honor and recognize the outstanding individuals who are the Class of 2023 laureates," Pamela Van Horn, chair of the National 4-H Hall of Fame, said in the release. “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.”
UArizona Associate Vice President and State Director of Extension Ed C. Martin, Ph.D. worked with Astroth before his retirement.
“I always enjoyed working alongside Kirk during my tenure as the Extension Associate Director for ANR programs at UArizona Cooperative Extension,” Martin said.
Astroth, who earned a UArizona masters degree in archaeology after retiring, couldn’t attend the ceremony, because he was characteristically busy presenting a paper at an conference. He spent 35 years working in 4-H, first as an area 4-H specialist in Kansas, then as a specialist and state program director in Montana and finally as state program director in Arizona, a job he retired from in 2018.
He credits the kids with keeping him going for more than three decades.
“That’s what’s really gratifying, when you see these kids take on something and take it to a whole other level that you never envisioned,” he said.
Curt Peters, an Arizona 4-H agent emeritus, first met Astroth in the late 1980s. Their career paths crossed often in the ensuing years, and Peters called himself a “co-conspirator” in convincing Astroth to come to Arizona.
Peters noted that Astroth was always willing to share resources, information, time, or anything else he had that could help others, which he still does. Astroth has volunteered on the Tucson Festival of Books Author and Book committee, the Science City Steering committee and currently volunteers at the Casas Alitas Migrant Resource Center, for Humane Borders as a water drop volunteer. He is a former board member of the AZ Archeological and Historical Society and is currently on the board of the American Rock Art Research Association.
He also chaperones 4-H kids on cultural exchange trips, having recently returned from Costa Rica.
“He’s just an amazing person, both as a friend and as a colleague,” Peters said.
In 1990, President George H.W. Bush gave his 174th Point of Light Award to Astroth’s Kansas chemical abuse education program 4-H CARES. Astroth lists Rockets to the Rescue, a program that has since spread around the world in 4-H, as a key Arizona accomplishment, along with bringing AmeirCorps and VISTA to Extension and facilitating acquisition of the Harold and Mitzie James 4-H Camp and Outdoor Learning Center.
“I had a great time in Arizona. There were some really great people that I worked with and we did some really great stuff,” Astroth said.
Some highlights of Kirk Astroth’s career, according to the Hall of Fame news release:
- Presidential Volunteer Service Award from President Barack Obama for international work in Nepal
- JCEP President
- President, Journal of Extension Board of Directors
- Coordinator of the Montana Governors’ Summit on Youth
- Chair, Montana Children’s Trust Fund
- Chair, Montana Interagency Coordinating Committee for Prevention
- Director, Montana Promise Fellows Program
- Chair, States’ 4-H International Exchange Program board of directors
- Co-designer of the seventh annual National 4-H Youth Science Day Experiment—“Rockets to the Rescue”
- Co-creator of the TerraPod 4-H film-making project
- Montana Governor’s Celebration of Children Award
- National Afterschool Association Board of Directors
Biographies and more information about inductees can be found on the National 4-H Hall of Fame website.
Astroth's accomplishments have been recognized by a variety of different entities. He has been awarded the Distinguished Service and Meritorious Awards from NAE4HA, as well as numerous communicator awards. In 2000, he was awarded the Montana State University Silver Buffalo Award, the highest award given by Montana State Extension. The University of Arizona College of Ag and Life Sciences presented him with the Outstanding Efforts in Fund Raising Award in 2014. Cox Communication awarded him the “Connect2STEM” award for the best after school program in AZ in 2014.
Kirk Astroth is just one example of Arizona 4-H leadership.
See our 4-H Youth Development website for information about opportunities for Arizona youth.