Indiana judge comes off the bench for 4-HWEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Good news for Indiana's more troubled youth: There's a judge in their future.
Purdue University has named Linda Chezem, the first woman to become a circuit court judge in Indiana, to be the first woman to lead the state 4-H program.
As head of Purdue's Department of 4-H Youth, Chezem is responsible for statewide 4-H programs that reach more than 252,000 youths and 20,500 volunteer adults and Junior Leaders. The department has a national reputation in curriculum development, programming for youths with special needs and community development focusing on youth issues.
Chezem, formerly the judge of the Indiana Court of Appeals Fourth District, left behind a 26-year career in law, but continues an equally long record -- on and off the bench -- of working for families and children.
For her, the question is basic: If a kid is going to do five to ten in a state institution, wouldn't 4-H be a better choice than prison?
"4-H is a healthy way to grow kids," said Chezem, who assumed her new duties Jan. 1. "Kids no longer grow up in a family with a mother, father, 2.2 children, a dog and a cat. We must find ways to help families nurture their children to become productive adults. Land-grant universities like Purdue have the research and resources to help us create these kinds of relationship models for kids."
As judge of Lawrence Circuit Court in Bedford in the 1980s, Chezem saw many juvenile cases that she believed could have been prevented by the presence of a supportive adult. "We were getting problems other systems hadn't dealt with -- problems the legal system wasn't equipped to deal with," Chezem said. "Lives go on after court. We need to find a way to support families. In many cases, it would take so little to change their direction."
Chezem helped create this support with a program called Community Systemwide Response (CSR). Through CSR she forged an alliance between the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service and juvenile and family court judges to develop community-based programs for at-risk youths and families. CSR since has been implemented in more than one-third of Indiana's 92 counties.
It wasn't coincidence that Chezem turned to Purdue Extension for help; it was family tradition. Her father, a Clay County farmer, always had looked to Extension and Purdue for information. Her mother, a former 4-H'er, belonged to a home economics club and was Chezem's 4-H leader as well. Chezem tells a story that illustrates just how far back her ties to Extension go: "The day I was born, the home economics agent came to visit me at the hospital."
Chezem knows one of her biggest challenges is attracting and retaining younger volunteer leaders for 4-H programs.
"We are working on several things that I think will develop leadership recruitment by offering training, support and appreciation," to offset what Chezem sees as a trend of fewer people volunteering fewer hours than in the past.
"Many Baby Boomers have less time to volunteer because they have taken second jobs," Chezem said. "We've got to figure out how to make volunteer time with 4-H interesting, fun and personally rewarding."
Off the bench, Chezem brought law-related education to Indiana schools through programs for elementary to high school students, even bringing youths to court to observe trials. A former licensed English teacher, she also continued her commitment to education by teaching sessions at professional training programs throughout the United States.
Her professional and community service activities at the national, state and local levels have ranged from the White House Conference for a Drug-Free America to her local county Extension board.
Chezem's efforts have not gone without recognition. She received the National 4-H Alumni Award and both the National and Indiana Friend of Extension Award. Among her many other honors are the Hoosier Hero Award, the Distinguished Hoosier Award and the Sagamore of the Wabash.
A graduate of Indiana State University (1968) and the Indiana University School of Law (1971), Chezem was in private law practice in Paoli from 1971 to 1975. She served as judge of Lawrence County Court (1976-82) and judge of Lawrence Circuit Court (1982-88). In 1988 she was appointed to the Indiana Court of Appeals.
Chezem succeeds Maurice Kramer, who retired in August 1997 after serving as 4-H Youth department head since 1984. Under Kramer's leadership, 4-H revised its curricula to teach life skills and work force preparation and expanded programs for Indiana schoolchildren and at-risk youth.
Source: Linda Chezem, (765) 494-8422
NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A black-and-white photo of Linda Chezem is available from Agricultural Communication Service, (765) 494-8396, Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2096, or the PurdueNews ftp site at ftp://ftp.purdue.edu/pub/uns/.