John and Beatrice Bagby live by a personal motto: "Live so your memories can bless the full length of your life."
They even printed these words, first uttered by Elder David B. Haight during the April 1981 general conference, on a banner for the family party last September celebrating their golden wedding anniversary.
And they are living every word of it.
From 1998 to 2000, while serving in the South Africa Cape Town Mission, they saw a need. They saw children in some Xhosa communities growing up in poverty, hauling water in buckets and going to school in buildings in need of repair. They also saw caring, loving parents and concerned school administrators. After 31 years with the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service, nine of them with the 4-H program, Sister Bagby had some ideas. Her husband, who managed rental properties and can fix anything be it a roof or a table had some ideas of his own.
So upon their return home, the Bagbys, members of the Champaign 2nd Ward, Champaign Illinois Stake, made plans to return to South Africa on their own time and with their own funds. They went back two months later. And again in 2001, and again in 2004. During three trips to King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, the Bagbys have helped develop and launch 4-H programs among the Xhosa population. In fact, some eight municipalities in the province now have 4-H programs that include gardening, raising rabbits, leadership training and promoting health issues. During their most recent trip last fall, they spent some 40 days in South Africa helping Xhosa students develop a photo project on local needs to present to government officials. They also packed with them some 140 pounds of 4-H manuals and materials.
The Bagbys are quick to point out that the 4-H program with four H's standing for head, heart, hands, and health had already been introduced in South Africa by a Canadian in 1989, and that their work has been to promote and help launch further programs.
"We saw an opportunity to influence change for good for many people," Sister Bagby said during a telephone interview. In addition, she said, "working with youth is the future of the country. That's what we're striving to do through the extension service of the 4-H program."
For Brother Bagby, when asked why he would willingly give up more retirement and more personal savings to help, he simply responds, "It's the love of the people. They're humble. They're willing to learn and they're just so gracious."
They are, indeed, willing to learn. During that first trip in 2000, Brother and Sister Bagby flew to South Africa, where they met with women from the local 4-H extension service and flew with them to Ghana to a home economics meeting for training. It was the first trip for the women out of their country. Also, the Bagbys have hosted a former branch president from King Williams Town, his wife and two Department of Agriculture Extension Officers from South Africa at their home in Illinois for further 4-H training.
One of their most memorable moments came during the last trip when the 4-H project, "Through Your Eyes," was launched at the Wili School in the Transkei. During the five-hour program, not only did the 30 students, a teacher and an extension officer participate, but also some 50 parents, seven teachers, the principal and four other extension officers attended.
"Parents are becoming more involved in working with the school in supporting the 4-H program," Sister Bagby said.
Sister Bagby described with joy of one memory. One little Xhosa girl, speaking in her native language, kept trying to tell her something as the Bagbys were leaving her village one day. Finally, someone interpreted for her. The little girl wanted to give Sister Bagby a kiss.
"That's our payback."
Any plans for the future? Sister Bagby is quick to answer, "Save to go back."
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