International 4-H Youth Exchange members reunite after 42 years

Submitted photoWilliam Selm and Jan and Michael Holdaway are pictured holding the Union Jack, the national flag of the United Kingdom.

The International 4-H Youth Exchange program gives young people the chance to discover a global perspective and meet new people across the world.

William Selm, who grew up in Rush County, met Jan and Michael Holdaway while participating in the program in 1974.

Selm was selected by the organization to represent Indiana 4-H and Jan to represent Iowa 4-H. Michael was a 4-H member in New Zealand.

From June to December of 1974, Selm, Jan and two other Americans visited the United Kingdom as guests of the Young Farmers Clubs of England, Wales, Scotland and Ulster. Selm stayed with 13 host families.

“We bonded through this wonderful experience, even though we stayed with different host families in Scotland, Ulster, Wales and England,” Selm said.

While there, Jan met her husband Michael, who was involved in a similar program with the New Zealand Young Farmers Club.

Jan and Michael married in 1977 in Iowa. Selm, his brother Fred Selm and two friends Fred Lee and Ron Adams, embarked on a road trip to attend the wedding.

Michael told Jan he would only live in New Zealand because that’s where he wanted to farm. However, the couple compromised to live in the United States for six years if they could spend the rest of their lives in New Zealand.

“Amazingly, she agreed and we married on her parent’s farm in Iowa after knowing each other for three years. We spent a wonderful six years living in the United States before moving back to New Zealand where we farmed together for 33 years,” Michael said. “We retired in 2016, sold the farm and bought 20 acres near where our two children live. We now try and spend about three months of the year in the United States to be near Jan’s family and the rest of the year here.”

The couple reunited with Selm, who now lives in Indianapolis, on July 3 and 4. He had not seen them since 1977.

“Even though I had not seen them since 1977 at their wedding in Iowa, we had stayed in touch with annual Christmas letters,” Selm said. “They pulled up at my house in Indianapolis in their camper RV. They got out immediately and we embraced in the street.”

Selm brought the Holdaways to Rushville for a July 4 celebration. The three toured the Selm family farm in Rush County and enjoyed the city’s fireworks show afterwards.

What the Holdaways enjoyed about Selm all those years ago they continued to enjoy today. Michael said it was nice to meet Selm’s family.

“We had not seen Bill since our wedding in 1977 so seeing him again after so long was a surreal feeling,” Michael said. “You imagine someone as they were when you last seen them and so my first words to Bill were, my god Bill you’re an old man. He replied, so are you? We soon realized while he looked a bit different from the young man we knew, he was really no different at all. It was lovely to be in his company again.”

According to Michael, the International 4-H Youth Exchange program gives young people with farming backgrounds the opportunity to experience things they wouldn’t otherwise. Michael spoke about how the program changed the couple’s lives forever.

“As you might imagine, the 4-H Youth Exchange program changed our lives in ways we could never had dreamed of,” Michael said. “We were only 22 but we knew within a day or two of meeting that we had met the person we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with. The 4-H Exchange program was a once in a life time experience. Of course for us, looking back over the years and thinking how it has changed our lives, it was the single most important thing we have ever done.”

After experiencing July 4 celebrations in the United States for a couple of years, Michael believes few countries celebrate their birth as a nation like the United States. His time in the country led him to realize the celebration is a part of the nation’s fabric and bonds it together.

“It was wonderful to have the opportunity to live in another country. The six years I had in Iowa changed who I was as a person and gave me experiences I could never had otherwise,” Michael said. “Jan has spent more than half her life in New Zealand now and is truly at home in both countries. We are both very different people from what we would have been had we not gone on that 4-H trip.”

“When we said goodbyes on July 5, I told them that our reunion brought me great joy as they were part of this great shared happiness of our great adventure in a foreign land,” Selm said. “I benefited greatly from 4-H Club as did my siblings and parents. I am grateful.”

Selm’s experiences with the International 4-H Youth Exchange program were published in 1974 by the Rushville Republican.