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4-H camp scholarships established to honor former camper

Courtesy photo
Robby Venturino (third from left) at a state 4-H camp with several friends.
Courtesy photo Robby Venturino (left) at a 4-H camp with his younger brother, Jacob. From the time he was diagnosed with cancer until he aged out at 21, Robby did not miss a county or state 4-H camp, his mother said.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Robby Venturino, an 18-year-old freshman at Morehead State University in Kentucky, came home to visit his family in Williamson in November 2005, his mother, Tami Mosley, knew something was bothering her son. He'd become pale, thin and prone to coughing fits.

"I finally said, 'Please, let's just go to the doctor," Mosley said. "I thought, 'OK, worst-case scenario is that he has pneumonia. He'll miss class Monday, get some IV antibiotics, and be back to class Tuesday.' Wow, was I wrong."

Doctors found a tumor extending from his collarbone to the bottom of his left lung.

"And that was just one," Mosley said.

Venturino was diagnosed with stage-four Ewing's sarcoma. He began treatment immediately, and was forced to put college and many of his other interests on hold so that doctors could regulate his white blood cell count and administer his treatments.

When the summer of 2006 began to approach, though, Mosley said her son began to "work on his doctors" so that he could be allowed to leave the hospital for a few weeks.

That's because annual state 4-H camps were coming up -- the Older Members Conference (OMC), Alpha I and Alpha II -- and Robby, who had been attending 4-H camps since he was 10, didn't want to miss them.

"He told them, 'Look, I'm going to camp,'" Mosley said. "His doctors kept telling him, 'Cancer doesn't take any time off.' We were in the hospital for chemotherapy during Christmas Eve that year, but my son just said, 'Cancer's going to take a break when I go to 4-H.'"

In 4-H, a youth organization geared toward experiential learning, community engagement and developing leadership skills, members age out of the program at 21. From the time he was diagnosed with cancer until he aged out, Venturino did not miss a county or state 4-H camp, Mosley said.

"I think the plan was that while he was at 4-H camp, he would have to go on Tuesday and Thursday for his blood count," she said. "When he got to that first camp [after the diagnosis], needless to say, he had no hair, no eyebrows. He was very thin and very pale. He didn't care -- he was going to go be with his friends. After two days, he was full-force Robby all over again. It was like he'd never been sick."

Robby Venturino passed away last November at the age of 25.

According to Mosley, her son was passionate about two things: his education and 4-H. When he told her, not long before he passed away, that he wanted to do something to help kids be able to go to state camp, Mosley said she had to make sure his wish became a reality.

The Robby Venturino Memorial State 4-H Camp Scholarship will allow one 4-H'er attending OMC, Alpha I, or Alpha II to go to camp for free. Those usually cost about $250 for one week.

Brent Clark, director of development for the West Virginia University Extension Service, which oversees 4-H in the state, said hundreds of kids attend state 4-H camp each year, and many receive scholarships to make camp more affordable.

"We worked a lot with Robby's parents to have this scholarship established," Clark said. "It was one of Robby's wishes to be able to help others attend 4-H camp, and this was one way his parents felt they could fulfill the wish that he had."

Venturino's other dream was to graduate from WVU, Mosley said, and he took classes at a nearby college in Williamson when he was in remission and talked about his plans to attend graduate school, even after doctors informed him there were no more treatment options left.

He enrolled in WVU in August 2011, according to a story in the WVU Extension Service's Development Quarterly magazine.  

During its 2013 spring commencement ceremony, WVU awarded Robby a posthumous degree.

And during OMC 2013, staff and campers honored Venturino after a council circle one evening, when they released LED balloons into the night sky and sharing their memories of the former "Mingo tribe" member.

Venturino was also inducted into the 4-H All Stars, the highest honor awarded to 4-H'ers, during OMC.

"I held it together, even through the graduation ceremony at WVU, but I lost it during that," Mosley said.

Clark said WVU Extension hopes to maintain the scholarship for years to come, and encourages anyone interested in donating to contact the WVU Extension Office by calling  (800) 670-4838.

"He wanted to share his love of 4-H in whatever way he could, and if that was just in his memory, that would have to be enough," Mosley said. Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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