MOLALLA, Ore. – She doesn’t remember exactly what she said, but Shirley Byrne’s words certainly made an impression on the family of one of the patients she cared for as an ICU nurse at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center.
Byrne, a longtime volunteer with the Oregon State University Extension Service’s 4-H Youth Development Program in Clackamas County, “showed exceptional compassion and empathy to us as we made … difficult decisions,” the patient’s family wrote in a Dec. 14 letter to the Clackamas County 4-H Association. “She also shared with us her work with your 4-H group. So, in a small way, we would like to thank Shirley by giving a donation of $750.00.”
Enclosed was a check made out to the association. Byrne said she hears from past patients who have made donations in her name, but this one was different.
“That just blew me away,” she said. “It was really close to home and to a program and people that I love. This was a patient I took care of for several days. The family would come in and we’d chat about how their day went. I was in 4-H. My kids were in 4-H. I feel so passionately about our program. It’s an amazing program and always has been.”
Byrne leads the United Riders horse club in Clackamas County. For the last decade, she has served as the 4-H horse superintendent, taking the lead on the county’s horse pre-fair and fair classes. Clackamas County has the largest horse program in Oregon, according to Wendy Hein, professor of practice and Clackamas 4-H faculty member.
“Shirley was very involved in helping us pivot to virtual horse shows the last two years,” Hein said. “While kids would prefer in-person shows, we had lots of grateful comments about how glad they were that 4-H ‘did something’ instead of canceling all activities. Now, Shirley is helping us transition back to in-person events with strong safety protocols.”
As a nurse, Byrne said she tries to build a rapport with patients and their families.
“It’s usually a family’s worst day,” she said. “There is lots of talking and explanation of what we are doing and why. That’s what we do. We teach people. We also talk about where we live and have a normal conversation like you have with strangers. The 4-H horse program comes up. For example, a patient or their family member will say they have a granddaughter who rides. I must have spoken so passionately about 4-H to this family.”
Byrne lives on a few acres in the foothills of Mount Hood. She has two horses – Maliah, a Clydesdale-quarter horse cross and Sierra, a Percheron-quarter horse cross.
“They’re both big, big girls,” she said, adding that as she now works as a travel nurse, she loans the horses out to 4-H horse club members.
Byrne has her own history of philanthropy with 4-H. After her daughter Jessica Haney was killed in a car accident in 2011, she endowed a scholarship in Jessica’s name with the Oregon 4-H Foundation. When her son Jake Haney died in 2019, the family asked that donations be made to the Clackamas County 4-H Association to add to the scholarship endowment.
As for the recent $750 donation, the Clackamas 4-H Horse Advisory Board recently voted to use the money to pay for all of the members’ pre-fair entry fees.
“The members are so excited to get back to the arena and show us what they have learned,” Hein said. “With this donation, we know that no one will miss out because of the entry fees.”