Debbie and Andy Mason have kickstarted a new 4-H scholarship endowment at the University of Florida in honor of Tekla “Teki” Hinton Ericson, beloved daughter, wife, mother and friend. Teki passed away December 20, 2016, and would have celebrated her 53rd birthday this year on January 4.
Teki grew up in the Florida 4-H Youth Development Program, participating in many 4-H projects including horticulture, forest and wildlife ecology, poultry, and the dog project with her labradors. She excelled academically and in 4-H, serving in various leadership roles including representing Florida at 4-H National Congress and holding office on the 4-H State Council.
Teki’s parents, Chip and Jemy Hinton, credit 4-H with shaping their daughter’s life. They lovingly recall sending her to 4-H camp for the first time with her guitar case as a difficult pre-teen, but when she returned home was like a new child. Her experiences at camp had seemingly flipped a switch for the young Teki, and 4-H would continue to prepare her for the rest of her life.
Debbie and Teki were classmates at Brandon High School and roommates their final year of college at the University of Florida. Debbie shares, “Teki is no doubt my best friend. However, I know there are dozens of people who feel the exact same way about her. She had that gift of being able to connect with people. We shared some formative years together; I leaned on and learned a lot from her. A free spirit, she still managed to be the most grounded person I knew.”
Debbie smiles recalling some of their many adventures – from Spanish V class in high school where they were the only two students in the class, which Debbie admits included quite a bit of gossiping (all in Spanish, of course), to after-school beach trips, club service projects and hanging out with friends on the weekend. In Gainesville there were Star Trek marathons, memorable Pictionary battles, Burrito Brothers runs, and a few epic celebrations dancin’ and singin’ and movin’ to the groovin’. Laughing, Debbie, who grew up on Country music, credits Teki with introducing her to rock and roll, specifically The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
While they had quite a bit of fun, Debbie also notes, “Teki was a serious, hands-on student. Our apartment’s tiny kitchen was always filled with plant cuttings and soil samples. I can assure you far more plant propagation and horticultural experimentation occurred in that kitchen than actual cooking. I loved being a part of it all, and I am proud to contribute to this endowment in her honor that will help future students learn and gain valuable life experiences.”
After graduating from the University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences with her bachelor of science in ornamental horticulture, Teki found success working in the ornamental and landscape industry. She married her college sweetheart Andy Ericson, and he completed his doctorate from Clemson University. Teki eventually decided to focus full-time on raising their two daughters, and brought her family back home to central Florida.
The scholarship recognizes youth who, like Teki, have excelled in the 4-H program, and encourages these students to take their next educational step. 4-H members in good standing who are rising or graduating high school seniors or in the first three years of postsecondary program are eligible, and may apply the funds to any field of study or accredited college, university or technical training program. The first preference is for 4-H’ers from Hillsborough County.
The Hillsborough County 4-H Foundation has also contributed funds from the current county scholarship in Teki’s name to help create the permanent scholarship. The Teki Hinton Ericson 4-H Scholarship will be presented in July at the annual flagship 4-H University program in Gainesville, FL.
If you would like to contribute in memory of Teki, you can give online at UFgive.to/Teki. Checks payable to UF Foundation can be mailed to UF/IFAS Advancement ATTN: Teki 4-H Scholarship, PO BOX 110170, Gainesville, FL 32611. Your gift will help reach the initial goal of $30,000 to permanently endow the scholarship.
For additional ways to give, or to discuss other opportunities to support Florida 4-H, please contact Caylin Hilton at grow4H@ifas.ufl.edu or 352.392.5432.
4-H is the youth development program of the land-grant university system and Cooperative Extension System. The program provides hands-on educational programs and experiences for youth ages 5-18 with the objective of developing youth as individuals, and as responsible and productive citizens. In Florida, 4-H is administered by University of Florida IFAS Extension and Florida A&M University.