In the past several decades, being involved in local 4-H programs has led to at least one marriage, started agricultural careers and become a part of local family traditions.
For one family, pig wrangling has been a tradition for generations. For another, children have grown up itching to be old enough to join 4-H.
Starting next week, hundreds of 4-H’ers will display their work at the annual county fair. They will walk their pigs around the show ring and compete as showmen with their cattle. Baked goods will be judged and the leaves of crops examined.
As the fair approaches, we bring you stories of four county families who have 4-H in their genes.
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A family tradition
Seventy-one years ago, Charlie Stewart was in his first year of 4-H.
In 1945, the then 9-year-old walked his beef cattle around the show ring for the first time at the Johnson County 4-H and Agricultural Fair.
Since then, all four of the Bargersville farmer’s children were 10-year 4-H’ers, showing pigs in the 1970s and 1980s, while he served on the fair board.
Most of his nine grandchildren were, too. And this summer he will have a grandchild and a great-grandchild carry on the family tradition.
Through 4-H, Stewart learned life skills, and he wanted his children to have those skills, he said.
Plus, 4-H and farming go together, Stewart said.
“It’s the responsibility mainly, meeting the others kids and the camaraderie,” he said. “You can’t beat 4-H and FFA.”
His wife Judy didn’t grow up participating in 4-H, but she soon learned. She was a 4-H leader while her children were members.
She saw more children who were raised in suburban parts of the county getting involved. Instead of showing animals, they were doing posters and projects, she said.
“It is the switch from farm-raised children to urban children,” she said.
All is fair in love
A Whiteland couple isn’t sure they would be together now if it weren’t for the fair
Matt and Amy Dougherty met when they were both 13 years old, showing 4-H cattle at the Johnson County fairgrounds. They started dating later after reconnecting at the fair.
Now, they have been married for 25 years and their three children, Emily and twins Eric and Ethan, have been in 4-H for years. Emily was a 10-year 4-H’er.
“Our kids just went right in 4-H. We have taught them the value of work ethic and working hard to get what you get,” Amy Dougherty said.
At least three generations of their family have done 4-H, with both Amy and Matt’s parents growing up in 4-H.
Their family is also a farming family, an occupation that lends itself to 4-H, since their children learn skills on the farm that they can show off at the county fair, she said.
“Our big thing with our family is we teach them how to do it, so they can do it on their own one day,” she said.
Their children also have become problem solvers through 4-H. If something didn’t go their way, they knew they needed to work harder to get the results they wanted, she said.
“If you don’t get that big ribbon at the fair, figure out what you can do,” Amy Dougherty said.
“A lot of the things that 4-H teaches you, they are life lessons.”
The wait to be old enough to join 4-H was excruciating for one Greenwood family.
Meg Copeland’s two children, Katie and Tommy, grew up watching their older cousins show pig at the fair.
And they couldn’t wait until it was their turn.
“A lot of their experience wanting to do it, was they had cousins who did it,” she said. “It was a big deal when they were old enough to do 4-H.”
Now, Tommy is entering his 10th year and Katie was a 10-year member right after high school, too. They mostly showed pigs.
Meg Copeland grew up doing 4-H in Allen County, where her mother was a 4-H leader. Their involvement started with a pig farm that has been in the family for generations, she said.
“It all fell down from the old Copeland farm,” she said.
Her children looked forward to spending 16 or 17 hours at the fairgrounds to keep a close watch on their pigs. Their cousins, aunts and uncles were around too, making it family time, she said.
“It was a nice time to be around family,” Copeland said.
‘How we were raised’
At least four generations of a Bargersville family have been in 4-H.
Kim Robards of Bargersville has three children in her home that do 4-H. Her husband, Chad, was a 10-year 4-H’er. And his grandpa was in the 4-H band.
Kim Robards showed sheep as a young 4-H’er and when it came time to raise her own kids, singing them up for 4-H was the natural thing to do, she said.
“It is just how we were raised, we don’t know anything different,” she said.
Her nieces and nephews show animals and do crop projects at the fair, and their extended family gets involved, too.
“There is a whole slew of us,” she said.
The community service component is why Kim Robards touts 4-H. She likes that her children get the sense of community, and that they are learning valuable lessons, such as raising money for non-profit organizations through 4-H, she said.
“To me it is very important for the kids to be involved in our community,” she said.
Here is a look at Sunday’s fair schedule:
9 a.m.: 4-H dog show, east side of Fitzpatrick Hall
11 a.m., 2 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 8 p.m.: Bear Hollow wood carvings
1 p.m.: Pet parade, indoor arena
3 p.m.: Little Miss and Mister Johnson County contest
3 p.m.: Robotics club demonstration, Magil Hall
5 p.m.: Midway opens, 50-cent tickets
7 p.m.: Miss Johnson County fair queen contest
Dark: Fireworks, from northwest corner of fairgrounds