Peter Stortz named to 4-H Hall of Fame

Debbie Carter

Retired Palmer 4-H agent Peter Stortz will be inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame on Oct. 11, becoming the sixth Alaskan to receive that honor.

The Hall of Fame recognizes 4-H volunteers, Cooperative Extension Service professionals, staff and others who made a significant impact on the 4-H youth program at the local, state or national level.

Peter Stortz
Peter Stortz

Stortz, a professor emeritus with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, will be recognized for his contributions to 4-H, particularly with environmental education. In his nominating letter, Southeast Extension agent Darren Snyder said Stortz is known nationally for his innovative approach to teaching math and science in culturally relevant ways.

Stortz has a long history of working with youths in Alaska that began in 1978 as director of a Youth Conservation Corps camp near Juneau. He served as the director of a 4-H environmental education center in Wisconsin before returning to Alaska in 1989 as the Palmer 4-H agent for the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.

Five years later, he became the statewide 4-H fisheries and natural resource specialist. He inherited a salmon incubation and fisheries education project involving youths in 10 central Yukon River communities. Through the project, teens in Kaltag also got paid for counting salmon for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“It wasn’t just an exercise,” he said. Fish and Game used the students’ daily weir counts  to gauge the strength of the chum and king salmon runs. Their counts were part of the information used to decide when to open and close the commercial and subsistence fishery.

Stortz also trained teachers on how to run a classroom salmon-incubation project that grew to encompass more than 100 Alaska communities. The project evolved into a four-day natural resource education in-service training with other agencies that melded Western science about salmon and traditional knowledge.

“It wasn’t just science from a Western perspective,” he said. “We tried to create culturally meaningful experiences for people in their own classrooms.”

Stortz also coordinated a 4-H teen leadership experience and regularly shared information about his programs with others regionally and nationally.

He said he is honored by the hall of fame recognition and the opportunities he has had in Alaska. Stortz retired in 2013 and continues to volunteer as a judge for 4-H and FFA public speaking contests and at the Alaska State Fair. He plans to attend the Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with family members. Fifteen others will be inducted.

4-H is a youth program affiliated with the Cooperative Extension Service and has an 89-year history in Alaska.

Stortz’s other retirement activities include compiling a history of Youth Conservation Corps camps in Alaska with comments from former participants.