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When the Webster County Fair begins next week, the fairgrounds will be a buzz with young 4-H and FFA members exhibiting their animals and other projects in hopes for a purple ribbon.
Some may not realize the time that is put in to getting animals ready for fair; building that bench; baking the pie; picking out an outfit for the fashion show or even capturing that perfect shot for the photography competition.
“Our 4-H members and leaders put a lot of time into preparing our youth for the fair,” said Lindsay Kavanaugh, Webster County Iowa State University Extension and Outreach youth coordinator. ”
Kavanaugh said 4-H’ers will work with their animals throughout the year and use their skills to prepare their 4-H exhibits which range from baked goods to furniture and quilts.
“We are so proud of the dedication and hard work our 4-H members put into their projects,” she said.
For 17 year old Gowrie resident, Haylee Welter, daughter of Gary and Kellie Welter, sometimes work begins for showing at the Webster County Fair an entire year in advance.
The reigning Webster County Cattlemen’s queen may not be bringing her cattle to the county fair this year, but she is already looking to do so for the 2022 fair.
“She owns her own cows and she already has her calf for next year’s fair,” said Kellie Welter.
Haylee Welter said she has been preparing to get her four wether sheep and one ewe ready for fair since she bought them last winter. She will also be entering a photography project in this year’s fair as well.
Choosing what animals to buy is no small task for Haylee Welter and she gets a lot of input from family members.
“There are so many online sales we have to through and decide whether we like them or not,” she said. “We go through a group chat with my family, sharing pictures, trying to decide which ones are the best.”
In fact, her family has polls going on which of Haylee Welter’s sheep will take the highest award at the fair.
Once the sheep are at home, which is usually in February, work instantly starts for Welter.
Getting her sheep show ready involves a weigh-in, which, after that event, is when she feels she gets her first real look at the animal.
“When you shear them for the first time after weigh-in, that is when you see a whole new lamb,” she said.
Welter will then start working with them on a daily basis – halter breaking them and everything else required for training them for show.
This is also a time when she gets to know each animal and their individual dietary requirements, as no two lambs are the same.
Welter, who will be showing sheep as a Central Plains FFA Chapter member, does not get any breaks when it comes to caring for her livestock – although she is active in several extracurricular activities.
“I do a lot by myself – walking them and washing them even late at night,” she said. “If I would slow down a bit at all, by parents, uncle and sisters are on me right away saying a lot of things to motivate me.”
Showing livestock carries on a long tradition for Welter on both sides of her family. Her grandfather, Bruce McGuire showed at the Webster County Fair over 60 years ago as well as her father who grew up showing at the same fair.
Welter said she encourages people to come out and see how much hard work everyone has put in getting their projects ready.
“You see that final product,” she said. “There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes on that a lot of people that have not have had this experience wouldn’t think of.”
To help understand better, Welter urges fair-goers to ask questions.
“Don’t be afraid to ask one of us 4-H’ers or FFA members,” she said. “I don’t know a person that wouldn’t want to explain it. We want it to be known to people. “
For Nathan Rethwisch he said he may work on a project all year long, where others, he may be burning the midnight oil to get them done in time for fair.
Rethwisch, 18, a recent graduate of Fort Dodge Senior High and the son of Steven and Mary Rethwisch all of Fort Dodge, has been a member of the Elkhorn Earlybirds 4-H club since the fourth grade.
During his 4-hour career, Rethwisch has been known to try a wide variety of project areas.
“I’ve done pretty much everything it seems like,” he said.
Projects Rethwisch has completed include woodworking where he made a bench that sits in his family’s entryway; home improvement where he redecorated his room with shiplap on his walls. He has also participated in sewing baking, the dog show and more.
Not all of Rethwisch’s projects have included using his hands, however.
Some of these favorite projects have been done in the communication area where he has participated in educational presentations and extemporaneous speaking.
He has already competed in the communication segment of competition for this year. His other projects he is working on to take for judging this year is a disc golf bag that he is sewing; photography and he is undecided if he will enter anything for food and nutrition. So far he is considering either bagels or croissants. Croissants, he said was his plan last year before the 4-H fair was canceled.
Depending on what the project is, also depends on how long he will be working on it. When he redecorated his room with shiplap, that, he said was done almost a year before fair. Areas such as horticulture have to also be started earlier.
Then there are projects that wait up until the last minute – especially for food and nutrition.
“I have pulled some late nights to get ready for fair,” he said.
Much like Welter, Rethwisch encourages people to come to the Webster County Fair next week to see the wide array of projects on display, and while they are there, to think about everything that went into that item.
“People always see the finished project. They see how cool that is, but a lot of it is planning step by step goals and documenting everything you did, ” he said. “You have to explain what you did, what you learned and then also keep receipts – that is also part of the project, just to see if that product is cost effective as well.”
Just when a 4-H’er or FFA member have worked hard with their animals or creating an exhibit – it doesn’t end there. It’s off to be judged – and that is not necessarily easy.
Rethwisch said his projects are typically judged on Tuesday of the fair. The judge will look through their write up about the piece; then they have to explain about the project – what their goals were and what they have learned. The judge, he said, will then ask some questions to test your knowledge over what you have done.
Rethwisch said choosing to enter into a variety of project areas has been a great learning experience.
“I think it is always fun to try to new things, to learn a lot of new things in different areas,” he said. “It helps people to come well rounded to do different projects – even if you do the same project area, it’s being able to push yourself forward every year.”
County fair aside, 4-H, in general Rethwisch has been a great program to be a part of.
“I am thankful for the opportunity,” he said. “It is a great program to develop a lot of important skills – whether that be with projects or you can develop a lot of leadership, communication and citizenship skills that are very important.”
Mary Rethwisch serves as the leader for the Elkhorn Earlybirds 4-H club. As a club leader, she enjoys watching not only her own children but her members excel in their project areas each year.
“It’s amazing to see what they accomplish in a year’s time and how much they grow and how proud they are of what they have done,” she said. “It is a great way to show off their skills and what they have learned.”
Mary Rethwisch said people can expect to see a wide variety of 4-H and FFA projects on display at the Webster County Fair.
“There’s a lot of woodworking projects that are beyond my skills that amaze me. Mechanical things, quilts, amazing food exhibits – things that you would see at a bakery and not normally in your kitchen. That is neat, “ she said. “I am very proud of them. They do have a lot of talent. “
Competing at the county fair also allows youth to showcase other abilities – such as public speaking.
“The talent is not only on making projects, but how they have to report their skills. If they compete in fashion review or communications, that is a different area – they have to use skills that are very important, ” she said.
The Webster County Fair runs Wednesday, July 14 through Sunday, July 18.
“Everyone is encouraged to stop out and check out the 4-H exhibits in the auditorium, cheer on our Share the Fun participants, engage in the working exhibits and watch any of our shows featuring animals,” said Kavanaugh.