By Scott Morrison
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ALEXANDRIA — To an unknowing onlooker, the Madison County 4-H Fair may seem little more than a look at farm life.
To some spectators, the fair offers little more than pigs and rabbits, and a few crafts on the side. But to veteran 4-H’ers, the fair and all the preparation leading up to it are all about learning valuable lessons.
“Through 4-H I have made friendships, come out of my shell, and become more outgoing,” 4-H’er Courtney Pape said. “I have learned responsibility. You have to get stuff done on time and do things the right way. You learn skills that you’ll use all the way down the road in college.”
The fair begins today at the fairgrounds at Beulah Park in Alexandria and runs through July 27. The fair and other activities teach 4-H’ers lessons they carry for life.
Courtney, 16, has been in the Madison County Rabbit Club and Creation Club for eight years and did Mini 4-H for one year. Kids can enter 4-H in first grade and participate in the Mini 4-H group for two years before entering regular 4-H as a third-grader.
4-H has become a family affair for the Papes who knew nothing about the nationwide organization until they saw a sign-up sheet in the library.
“As a parent it’s an opportunity to get my kids involved in something where they present themselves in front of other people,” Rob Pape said. “We have five children, three of them are in 4-H. It’s kind of like a curriculum you are using to teach your children.”
Courtney’s younger sister, Mikayla, has been in regular 4-H for two years now, and has already immersed herself in 4-H. She always enjoys her projects, but this year she has particular reason to be proud.
She beat her sister in the wearable sewing category for the first time ever, earning second best of all age groups. “The kids also learn how to lose, and being a better loser makes you a better winner,” Rob said.
The Papes are not just busy with 4-H during the summer. It truly is a year-round activity for 4-H’ers like Courtney who does sewing, child development, rabbits, and a few other projects. The animals require attention for months leading up to this past week’s judging, and other projects can be just as intensive.
“When I am pushed into a deadline I always tell myself I am going to do less projects, and I always end up doing more projects because I enjoy it,” Courtney said.
Courtney already has planned out her projects for her remaining two years in 4-H and once this year’s fair is over, she will already be busy working on next summer’s projects. The Pape family is not alone in their family love for 4-H. Mckennon Heald, 17, is in his ninth year of 4-H and will be a senior at Frankton High School next year. He was introduced to 4-H through his mother and his grandfather who raised rabbits for over 20 years.
Heald’s older sister carried on the 4-H tradition for 10 years, and now Heald and his two cousins raise pigs and rabbits over the three to four months leading up to the fair. Other than his grandfather’s rabbits and hogs on the farm where he works, Heald had little experience with animals before he started 4-H.
He too sees a lot of value in joining 4-H, particularly at a young age. “It looks good on a resume to show you are a 10-year member,” Heald said. “That shows you can stay with something.”
While he enjoys working with both animals, Heald likes raising pigs more because they take more work. The pigs must be carefully monitored to make sure they eat the right feeds and do not put on too much fat.
So what happens to all of the projects and animals once the fair is over?
Sewing projects can be easily kept or stored away and rabbits do not take up too much space. Most people keep their rabbits, including the Papes who shied away from revealing how many rabbits they own simply saying they had “enough.”
Other animals like Heald’s pigs, get sent to slaughter after the fair, and to Heald, that’s just fine. “That’s just how it goes,” Heald said. “I love bacon.”
The fair runs through Saturday at Beulah Park in Alexandria. A full schedule of fair events with times can be found online at madisoncounty4hfair.com.
If you go What: Madison County 4-H Fair When: July 21-27 Where: Alexandria 4-H Fairgrounds, Beulah Park, Ind. 9 Admission: Free admission, $2 for parking Read about local 10-year members of 4-H and contestants in tonight's 4-H Queen Pageant on Page C4.