“There’s No Place Like Holmes” – a phrase used in recent years to celebrate the opportunities that exist here in Holmes County, Florida. I find that many people try to figure out where our county is. Many locals say we are located right between Pensacola and Tallahassee, east and west– as well as Panama City Beach and Dothan, Alabama, north and south – right on the I-10 corridor. Many people know our community for our large annual rodeo, but most people out of state know we are their pathway to “The World’s Most Beautiful Beaches”. As a rural county with limited infrastructure, many young adults move elsewhere before realizing just how good of a place Holmes County is to raise a family and do life. I like to say, “The grass is green where you water it and my family and I choose to water it here.” Holmes County is growing and Holmes County 4-H will continue to do so as well.
My name is Chris Lauen and I grew up in the heart of Holmes County. One could even say it was the heart of Bonifay, the county seat, as my childhood home initially sat a few blocks from historic “downtown area”. Our home sat right on Highway 79 and faced the First Baptist Church. It was nestled next to the old Woman’s Club building and a “stones throw” from the Courthouse, Western Auto, and the “old” Bank of Bonifay. When the Bank of Bonifay (now First Federal Bank of Florida) chose to purchase the property from the church where my father was employed, my family ended up moving the home do a different property on the edge of town. That’s right – I managed to live in the same house with two different addresses. My weekly schedule as a child consisted of early mornings and late afternoons at Bonifay Elementary because that’s where my mom spent much of her career as the music teacher. Sundays were not much different as she typically played piano at First Baptist where my father has served as Minister of Music, Administrative Pastor, and a few other titles during my lifetime. My two older siblings would describe similar childhood experiences and still call Holmes County home, but reside with each of their families outside of Atlanta.
As I reach my middle school years, I would travel all over town as far as my bicycle or roller blades would take me, but my real playground was around any water that might have a fish hiding inside. I would bounce between the local ponds and creek and even prided myself in being able to catch some fish out of the ditches in the front of my home. My family supported my love for fishing and I’ll always remember my first days of surf fishing in Destin and my first trips on party and charter boats. I remember the sight of all of the big boats lined up at the harbor, the smells of diesel fumes from the engines wafting through the air combined with the odor of fish from the morning catch, and the overwhelming feelings of excitement about new adventures. For me, a driver’s license meant that I could find even more fish to catch, but also opened the door for more passions as my grandfather and great uncle passed down their old Browning A5 shotguns and a 1917 rifle. I enjoyed my new pursuit of new species, learning how to trap hogs, figuring out the best ways to get ducks to decoy, and looking for that big whitetail buck. With a driver’s license and other church members and mentors that liked to hunt and fish, I always tried to have a box of ammunition or fishing pole within reach. In the years ahead, my life revolved around school, hunting, fishing, attending or teaching at youth camps, foreign mission trips, playing music, and serving at our church.
Graduating from high school meant that I had the credentials to be a substitute teacher. With my mom still teaching and my history of literally growing up in and around the school, it didn’t take long for teachers to keep my calendar full based off their sick and vacation days. I was 17 years old. One week I was a student and somehow the next, a substitute teacher. I had the opportunity to attend Chipola College where I earned a degree in Professional Communication. I spent extra time on campus as a result of a Fine Arts scholarship and TV production scholarship. Whether it was running sound for the next big theatrical production or operating cameras at the athletic events, there were always opportunities to jump in, learn, and serve. After graduating from Chipola College, I went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Professional Communication as well as a Master’s degree in Corporate and Public Communication from Florida State University.
In 2009, my days as a substitute teacher came to close as I accepted a position with the Florida Department of Health in Holmes County. From 2009-2021, I served in a few different capacities. My titles included Senior Human Services Program Specialist, Certified Contract Manager, Webmaster, and Public Information Officer. My responsibilities as a Program Lead included the development of a county-wide partnership, including youth and adults, who would advocate for change across social, political, and legal landscapes. We worked with key decision makers, elected officials, and the general public to promote healthy living for generations to come. While serving at the Department of Health, I actually had the opportunity to serve on the local Holmes County 4-H Advisory Council and even had some of our youth partner with Holmes County 4-H on some projects.
Here I am today, my family and I are starting a new chapter with 4-H and Holmes County. In ways the work is similar to what I’ve been doing for years, but in many ways – it’s different. It’s exciting to have a new platform to serve my community. I’ve been blessed with an entrepreneurial, music singing/playing, horse riding, water sport loving, wife who I met through an annual church music camp that both of our parents taught at. In my very biased opinion, we have two spectacular kids who also love the outdoors and bring us lots of joy. Our little girl, who is currently in 2nd grade, has an amazing heart and is super witty. She is very excited about her dad’s new job because she is a huge fan of arts and crafts, cooking, and music. She learned how to sleep on the front deck of a boat at an early age and already has her lifetime fishing and hunting license. Our little boy just turned two and loves a good hardback book. He’s learning new words every day, but mainly prefers to use the books as a ramp for his cars and monster trucks to drive over, around, and under. If there is a mud puddle within sight, you better hold him tight or he will be in it. As my kids grow older, I’m excited about the prospect of their future 4-H involvement.
As the new Holmes County 4-H Agent, I look forward to “making the best better” and working toward the 4-H vision of creating positive change in our youth, their families, and our communities. I guess I can say “that grass” my family is watering now includes 4-H.
We look forward to watching Holmes County 4-H grow!