Bob Ritchie has a life-long commitment to the youth of our country that has shaped virtually every aspect of his life. His 33-year career with the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service gave him an opportunity to impact the lives of countless thousands of young people and their families, an opportunity that Ritchie always made the most of. One of the first words most of his colleagues and former 4-H’ers and their parents use to describe Ritchie is “friend,” a most fitting tribute to a man whose guiding principle has always been the simple phrase, “what is best for the youth.”
Ritchie received a B.S. from Purdue University in 1963, majoring in Animal Husbandry. He began his extension career in Grant County as a youth educator, a position he held for 15 years, while becoming the County Extension Director and continuing his education at nearby Ball State University. He earned his M.S. from Ball State in Executive Development and Public Service in 1969, and in 1979 graduated with an Ed.D. in Educational Administration. He then became a member of the Purdue University State 4-H faculty, a position he held for 18 years until his retirement.
As a member of the State 4-H faculty, he was responsible for all horticulture and field crop programs and their associated state fair exhibits, the Indiana 4-H Scholarship program, national 4-H awards programs, field staff development, state fair 4-H fashion revue and awards program, and a significant portion of the state’s various agriculture judging contests. He developed and was responsible for the overall success of Purdue’s 4-H Plant Science Workshop, and, ever the organizer, he worked to improve management of the enormous data base of the Indiana 4-H/FFA Ag Judging Program.
When the National 4-H Council decided to eliminate the 50+ year tradition of scholarships and competition of the 4-H Congress, Ritchie approached 4-H supporters in Indiana with the idea of establishing a similar program at the state level so that Indiana youth would still have the encouragement and opportunity that this competition and its scholarships had provided. With his guidance and leadership, the Indiana 4-H Congress was founded. The Congress features a one-day, first-rate leadership training program and 26 scholarship categories representing $30,000 in annual scholarships. In its six years of existence, the Indiana 4-H Congress has awarded more than $150,000 in scholarships.
Ritchie is described by many as symbolizing “role-model professionalism.” He has contributed, formally and informally, to the professional development of his extension colleagues and numerous volunteer leaders. His professional service has included two terms on the Purdue University Senate. He has held many leadership positions, including the presidency, of the Purdue University Coooperative Extension Specialists Association (PUCESA). He holds a life-time memberships in the Indiana Coooperative Extension/Educators Association (ICEEA) and the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents Association.
Ritchie’s involvement with youth extends into his life away from work, as he officiates high school baseball, football and basketball. In both 1990 and 1995 he officiated at the state championship football games in the RCA Dome, an achievement few officials attain even once. He is a member of the board of the Tippecanoe County Exhibit Association, having served as a member and chair of the Queen Committee and currently serving as the sheep superintendent. He has been active on a number of community boards, including the YMCA, PAL, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Community Child Care Council, Jaycees and the County Youth Council. He was on the Board of Directors of the Purdue Ag Alumni Association from 1990 to 1998, serving as vice-president from 1992-94 and as president from 1994-96. He was a key volunteer in Operation Brainpower, a student recruitment activity of the Association, and for the Latta Games, a youth quiz bowl competition. He is also a long-time member of the Ag Alumni Fish Fry Super Committee which plans and implements the Association’s annual meeting.
Ritchie has received numerous awards and citations, despite the fact that he is much more comfortable honoring the service of others. He is a member of both Epsilon Sigma Phi and Gamma Sigma Delta, honorary societies of extension and agriculture, respectively. He has been honored with the YMCA Youth Service Award, the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Meritorious Service Award, PUCESA’s Senior Award and the ICEEA Bob Amick Award for service to others. In 1999 Governor Frank O’Bannon named him a Sagamore of the Wabash in recognition of his exemplary community service.