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Consider this quote from Abe Lincoln

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."



A dear friend of the family passed away last week and as I was sitting in the church waiting for the funeral to begin, I was watching the photos of his life pass through on the screen mixed in with comments people had written. Nearly every comment that was made about him dealt with just what an influence he had been for so many of us growing up as 4-Hers in Dallas County. A flood of memories came forth as I thought back to those first few years showing cattle there.

In the days before rodeo’s and figure 8 races, the Dallas County Fair was held at the Kinnick-Feller Park on the north side of Adel. The barns stand near the north side of the softball fields there and the former sheep and hog barns are now a tennis court. The cattle barn was a long tile block building that had two large white doors on either end that rolled open. On the south end the show ring and bleachers was were the magic happened on the Saturday of the fair. If you had been lucky enough to make it to Saturday morning from the Wednesday night opening, without your steer breaking away and making a dash for the river or the cemetery then you were in the barn extra early. The wash racks on the west side of the barn were full and the whir of giant blow dryers could be heard as the isle became littered with cattle chutes and show boxes.

We didn’t have a fancy set up, nor did we ever have the best cattle, but I was about to learn what being a cattleman was really all about. Dad and Dennis Emehiser would gather around with brushes and cans of Aqua-net hair spray and would teach us how to pull up the hair on the back legs of the calves to make them look thicker. There was always a rag used to make sure the calf’s nose was clean and we boys would boast how pleased the folks would be when we came out of the ring with blue ribbons, but the men knew we probably wouldn’t as they looked nervously around, whispering quietly their disgust about that calf across the aisle that was purchase at some club calf sale in the Dakotas.

Those first trips into the ring were nerve-wracking for a 10 year old holding onto a leather strap which was attached to the show halter with a small silver chain that we knew wouldn’t stop any steer who decided to make a break for it. Usually my Great Uncle LaVerne was at the gate and he would smile and tell every one of us to just take a deep breath and remember to smile. Parents and grandparents would fill the stands near the ring as one or two brave kids would stir up the dust from the sawdust as they hung on the lower rungs of the fence.

I am not a tall adult and as a child was shorter than most of the kids my age, so when I got to the ring it was everything I could do not to trip over myself while trying to hold the halter and the show stick as I pulled and pulled at Telstar the odd ball Brown Swiss cross steer my father thought would be a good learning experience that first year. The hard paper number that mom had pinned to my white 4-H shirt with safety pins distracted me from the older kid behind me who kept poking my steer with his show stick to urge us into the ring.

Dad and Dennis were both there when I came out of the ring with my red ribbon and last place in the class that day. They rubbed my head and congratulated me on not falling down or jabbing anyone to death with my show stick. It was off to a bale of hay where I would remain the rest of the morning trying to stay out of the way as my friends showed their calves. I must have been pouting a bit, but I remember Denny coming up to me and sitting down on the bale. He reminded me that it wasn’t about winning and losing that day, although winning would be nice. No, it was more about learning what to do and not to do when it came to raising animals and being proud of the work you put into a project.

In those days, the cattle show was big business running all morning. As the last class would pass through the ring, the ringmaster would call for the noon break to occur, reminding everyone to come back in an hour to name the Grand Champions. We would pack out of the show barn and head west across the parked cars and stones circling the drive and made our way to a large octagon shaped shelter near the playground. It was here that the real fun made. The James family, Emehisers my parents and grandparents and most anyone else we could find would all gather for a noon potluck. We would eat entirely too much and were reminded not to spend too much time at the playground as our folks didn’t want us to ruin our new blue jeans or dirty our white shirts. We boys also learned those noon hours about things we had done wrong in the ring and how next time we would know better, and honestly we took most all the advice to heart.

I may have never come out of that show ring clutching the purple ribbon, but the award of family and friends that came with those times will last with me much longer than a ribbon, and for that I’m truly grateful. Having the opportunity to know Denny and to have been one of those 4-H kids influenced by him is one of those great life memories and one I wish more young people would have had.

See you next week…remember, we’re all in this together.