4-H participants reminisce during their last fair season

EVART — It's never easy saying goodbye. Several participants in this year's Osceola County 4-H FFA Fair are discovering how hard it can be as they show their last steer, chicken or rabbit.

Members of 4-H are able to participate from the time they are 5 years old until they turn 19. Many youths in Osceola County take advantage of the activities local 4-H clubs have to offer, and several raise and show multiple animals each year.

Morgan Cook, who won Grand Champion Market Steer this year, comes from a family heavily involved in agriculture. At the end of her last week of the fair, she remembers joining 4-H as a child and some of her favorite memories with the organization.

"My dad was raised on a dairy farm, and I have three older sisters who started doing 4-H," she said. "I was kind of expected to do it."

Cook becomes attached to the animals she shows every year, which makes it difficult to part with them at the end of the fair. One steer in particular, she recalls, had a special place in her heart.

"I had a steer a couple years ago named Bobby," she said. "He was probably my favorite steer. I cried so hard when he went. I showed him at the state and national levels, so I was really attached to him."

In addition to the responsibility of raising and caring for an animal, Cook said the 4-H program taught her to recognize and understand the value of the animals and how to increase that value. She also learned a great deal about respect for others through the organization.

Growing up in 4-H, Cook was part of two separate clubs before joining forces with some of the friends she met through the program to create their own group. It was through these clubs that she made some of her closest friends, including fellow 4-H participant Kameron VanScoyoc.

"When I turned 13 we started our own club, and that's where I met my family of 4-H," she said. "Kameron is like my brother. We grew up together showing."

While leaving the 4-H program is bittersweet, Cook said she is excited to move on and continue her secondary education at Conners State College in Oklahoma, where she will be a sophomore in the fall. Cook plans to specialize in bovine studies and to remain near animals for the rest of her life.

Amy McKee, also in her last year of 4-H, has enjoyed showing pigs and steers since she was 5 years old. After making the transition into college life, she decided to show only a pig this summer, though she won Grand Champion Market Steer last year. She is the sister of Pioneer Multimedia Coordinator, Justin McKee.

"My grandma, who passed away in 2006, she's the one who got us started in 4-H," McKee said. "She was our rock. When she died, my stepdad asked if I still wanted to show, and I ended up buying five red heifers with my fair money. We started our farm through that, and we have probably 30 cows now."

McKee took a break from showing pigs until her family found and purchased one for their farm through an online auction. The day the pig gave birth is one of the most memorable in McKee's mind.

"The week that she gave birth, it was just me, and luckily I didn't have school that day," she said. "It was just the craziest experience ever. We did it again this year."

McKee also cited responsibility as a major value she learned through her involvement with 4-H. Although she is excited to be moving to the Grand Rapids area to continue her collegiate program in molecular diagnostics, she will miss showing her family's animals each year.

"I'll miss the showing for sure, and probably the experience with the animals. Pigs have such personalities," McKee said. "Maybe I'll own animals later in life. I want my kids to be around them."