From woodworking to robots, cattle to photography, dozens of 4-H members will compete in the Douglas County Fair’s numerous events, contests and exhibitions this week. For months, seven- to 18-year-olds across the county have been perfecting their projects in hopes of taking home one of the traditional 4-H ribbons.
Still, many of those involved say the true prizes are not the purple or blue ribbons, but the lessons learned and memories made. Here are four of their stories.
Halley Flory is usually as quiet as the green pastures on her farm South of Baldwin. At 8 years old, she’s more than cautious about “stranger danger;” she rarely speaks to those unfamiliar.
She finds solace in her goat named Chip, who enjoys her silent company. She has spent her summer vacation from elementary school gently caring for him, a task not difficult for the compassionate child.
“I go down (to the goat pen) and bring a chair and read,” Flory said. “They come up to me very slowly to get to know me. I have to be still. They might run away if I move.”
Everyday, she and her younger sister feed, water and walk their goats like city kids do their dogs. But as Halley has molded Chip into a goat suitable for showing at the Douglas County Fair’s 4-H competition, Chip, in turn has sculpted her.
Now, when you ask the little girl about one of her favorite topics, her goat, a spark ignites the little 4-H member into a fiery chatterbox.
Her mother, Josie, says she enrolled her children in 4-H to cultivate their senses of responsibility and follow-through. But the greatest gift the experience has brought her oldest daughter was bringing Halley out of her shell.
“We started noticing last year when someone would come to the goat barn, Halley was so excited and knew so much about the goats she would answer visitors’ questions,” Josie said, “4-H really helped her in terms of her speaking abilities.”
By day, Mason Kelso, 17, relishes the spotlight onstage in theatre productions at Eudora High School. By night, he watches the sunset from his family’s farm.
The young actor’s interests might seem atypical for an avid 4-H member of 11 years, but he says his experience showing animals at the Douglas County Fair has helped him with his performance ability.
“In 4-H, I do a lot of public speaking and speech writing,” Kelso said. “It has helped me not be nervous when I get up in front of people.”
Kelso is not the only performer in his agricultural family. Kelso’s cat, Indiana Jones, is a show cat among farm cats.
While his fellow felines prowl the barn for mice, Indiana primps, preens and soaks up the country sun. Kelso says his family jokes about the cat’s different lifestyle.
“The call him the ‘real-life Garfield,’” Kelso said. “Even if you threw a mouse in front of him, he probably would not try to catch it.”
On Sunday, the actor and his show cat took to the stage together at the Douglas County Fair’s 4-H pet show. Wearing a blue bow around his neck, Indiana posed patiently while Kelso presented, ultimately winning them the Grand Champion award in their division for the fourth year in a row.
Kelso said he could not have done it without Indiana’s showmanship.
“He did very well, I was proud of him,” Kelso said. “He just sat there and let the judges love on him.”
Garrett Hart, 11, has entered the fair’s poultry, baking, woodworking and horticulture contests in the past, but preparing for a new project this year has been really special.
He’s been working long hours on a model rocket with his dad.
“It has been fun to get in good, quality time with him,” Hart said. “The instructions said it should take about two days' labor to put it together, but it has taken us about two months.”
Side by side, the two rocket scientists have worked on the 4-H SpaceTech project for 60 days, carefully aligning the pieces and building his rocketry competition entry with steady hands.
But in an instant, he and his father’s two months' of work will explode in a blast when Hart detonates his rocket. His family and friends will look on to record its soaring height and snapping photographs for proof.
Hart says after the amount of work it has taken he and his father on this year’s entry, they are going to have to start on next year’s as soon as possible.
“My dad said the day after the fair ends this year, we are going to have to start working on next year’s rocket,” Hart said.
Daisy Johnson was raised in the shade of a big red barn, cuddling critters and watching them grow alongside her.
Daisy’s mother, Debbie, says this is just the life she desired for her daughter.
“I have always thought children who were raised caring for animals turn into loving adults,” Debbie said. “I can’t think of a better way to grow up.”
For the past 10 months, Daisy, 17, has been raising her own “baby:” a fluffy brown llama named Phoebe. It was about this time last year that the Perry Lecompton High School senior says she was eagerly awaiting the arrival of little Phoebe.
“We were showing her mother at the fair last year and hoping she would give birth there for everyone to experience,” Johnson said. “but Phoebe wasn’t born for another month.”
Phoebe has grown quite a bit in her first year. Her and Daisy’s heads now bob at about the same height as Daisy leads Phoebe through an obstacle course in preparation for Wednesday’s 4-H llama exhibition.
Daisy walks Phoebe over a homemade, wooden teeter-totter, into a kiddie pool, then through a hula-hoop. The 10-month-old llama obediently follows along, trusting Daisy like she would her mother.
The little llama is affectionate toward her human counterpart, nuzzling Daisy whenever she is near. Debbie says Daisy and Phoebe’s strong bond must be something to do with Daisy’s spirit.
“I do not know what it is, but animals always seem to be drawn to her,” Debbie said. “It must be her loving, gentle way.”
Click here for the Douglas County Fair schedule: http://dgcountyfair.com/testimonial/enjoy-the-fair/
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