By Kelsi Gambill, MSPR, Communications and Marketing Manager

When one thinks of 4-H in Yellowstone County, the first name that comes to mind is likely Roni Baker. She is the face of 4-H in Billings and the surrounding area as she has dedicated decades of her career serving as the 4-H and Youth Development Extension Agent for Yellowstone County.

Baker has shaped countless lives in her career and even generations of Yellowstone County residents as they participate in 4-H as youth, start raising families of their own, and enroll their children in the program. She unites rural and urban 4-Hers and helps develop our next generation of leaders.

“For many years, Yellowstone County has been fortunate to have one of the top 4-H Extension Agents in the state of Montana, in Roni Baker,” states one of her nominators. “There are few leaders in Yellowstone County who have impacted as many people as Roni through her work with 4-H.”

Locally, 4-H continues to grow and evolve with the times. There is incredible support here in the way the community shows up and honors youth members and leaders. This was clearly evident when Baker coordinated a fair for the 4-H members in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, because the kid’s projects were better than ever before, and the fair is how they get to showcase their efforts. Through an immense amount of work for COVID protocols and presentations to the commissioners, they were able to have a socially distanced fair with livestreaming of shows that resulted in increased accessibility to the shows since the public couldn’t attend. Equally incredible was the support shown by the buyers during that year with new buyers showing up and livestock prices that surpassed previous years. Even during COVID, 4-H membership increased in Yellowstone County as families looked for ways to be involved.

The dedication that extension agents have for their job and their community is unmatched by most and they are essential in supporting agriculture and youth. Baker embodies this and more. Each year, Baker plays an instrumental role in connecting the dots to where food comes from, at the livestock station of the 4th Grade Ag Ed Program at NILE. Over 1,700 youth come through this program annually. She is known for her selflessness, kindness, organization, and leadership, all wrapped up in a servant’s heart.

A never-tiring advocate for agriculture and youth, Baker was the catalyst behind renovating the Sage Center into the new 4-H building on the MetraPark fairgrounds. This building was built by the Conservation Corps in 1930 with a 4-H sign on it since then. After much discussion with the county commissioners, she led the charge of renovating the building into an energy efficient, updated building through coordinating the hardworking people, sponsors, and donations. Now it’s one of the nicest buildings on the MetraPark grounds and is used five to six times a week for 4-H programs and events.

With 25 years of commitment to serving others through 4-H and Extension Service in Yellowstone County, across Montana, and nationally, Baker truly embodies the Agriculture Excellence Award. Presented by Stockman Bank, this award recognizes an individual, business or organization that has made outstanding contributions to the Billings agricultural community with a nod to their demonstrated excellence in their involvement in agriculture, leadership ability, and participation in civic, service and community organizations. The recipient is nominated by their peers and selected by the Chamber Ag Committee and Board of Directors.

Baker’s agriculture involvement began with her family as her dad raised hunting dogs and when the family moved to Belt, her father founded Jolly Roger Angus with a partner, which led to her start in showing livestock, horses, and cattle. Her father had the opportunity to be the point man when Stevenson Basin Angus was incorporated and on the front lines of EPD’s and embryo transfer was a brand new piece the angus breed was leading. In Laramie, Wyoming, her father started Shamrock Angus and was key in PAP testing as a leader in the industry.

A first generation 4-Her, Baker embraced all that the organization had to offer and she became a 10-year member in Cascade County. After graduating from MSU Bozeman with a degree in education, she taught elementary education in Hobson, Montana. When the 4-H and Youth Development position came open here in Yellowstone County, she knew it was the role for her—as she wanted to work with volunteers and kids. “Agriculture is full of connections to good, hardworking people and those connections are what I have carried into my career,” she said.

While Baker has been presented with honorable awards such as the state 4-H Agents Distinguished Service Award and being inducted into the Montan4-H Foundation Hall of Fame, the thing that stands out about her is her unwavering passion for the people. She currently serves as the new president of the Montana 4-H Foundation which is under new leadership of an executive director which allows them to hone in on the skills kids learn through 4-H, the value of it and ways others can support it across the state.

Her passion for 4-H and people has evolved from being a member to a youth leader to an agent. One of her biggest passions is the youth and what they bring to agriculture through 4-H and FFA. This is evidenced by her years as an extension agent and her involvement in agriculture and the community. In all that she does, she strives to “Be fair, be kind, but also be strong, and if you’re going to enforce the rules, know the intent behind the rule and do what’s best for the young people—keep them first.”

Baker has truly found her calling through her tireless efforts in agriculture, 4-H, and the community. She joins an impressive list of agriculture advocates and industry leaders as the second woman to receive the Billings Chamber Agriculture Excellence Award.

“Find your spark and passion and do what is exciting to you,” is her advice for others in the industry.