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Pretty big deal for country people

Kathy Heicher and Pam BoydVail, CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyMembers of the Burns Hole 4-H club pack into the Flattops Wilderness during a 1960s camping trip. Ben Wurtsmith, shown at right, leads the group.
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EAGLE COUNTY For most people, county fair conjures up images of rodeos, carnival rides, ranch animals, giant vegetables and sewing competitions.Its all that for the local 4-H kids, but its also much more. County fair is crunch time for 4-Hers. Kids who have been working for months on their projects must finish up their record books, put the finishing touches on their projects, and be prepared to present before judges. The 185 Eagle County 4-Hers, ranging in age from 5 to 18, will take home ribbons signifying how well they did with their projects. But by participating in the 4-H programs and the county fair, theyll also be taking home much more.The clubs with the familiar four-leaf clover symbol became popular in the 1920s, as a way to introduce new agriculture technology to families. The strength of the program, which is run by County Extension Offices, is to offer practical and hands-on learning; and to provide opportunities for new ideas and experiences. The 4-H motto is To make the best better, while its creed is Learn to do by doing.As the county has become more urbanized, so has the program. Still, the county fair is the one time a year that Eagle Countys agricultural roots dominate. Its a time for work, fun, and memories. Several former Eagle County 4-Hers this week shared their memories of 4-H and the county fair:

Jenny Wood, 29, is the 4-H Coordinator for the Eagle County Extension Office. She was an avid participant in 4-H as a kid. By the time she was a teen, she knew she wanted to be an extension agent. Im still getting ready for the fair its been my life, Wood said.Enrollment in Eagle County 4-H has been increasing annually. Most ranch kids raise their livestock animals at home; but the demand for space in the 4-H barn at the fairgrounds increases every year, as kids from urban areas try their hand at raising livestock.Wood remembers that county fairs were a big deal for she and her three brothers when they were growing up in Eagle and Grand counties. The kids started in 4-H when they were 5 years old. Their parents were club leaders.Taking care of animals and working on our projects was pretty much what we did all summer, says Wood.She remembers her own feelings of stress as the county fair deadlines neared; and she sees those same signs in the 4-Hers shes mentoring these days.I think 4-H teaches a work ethic that is not seen a lot these days. You have to get something done, even though you may be tired, and it may not be fun, she said. You dont see that in a lot of people these days.

When Burns Hole cattle rancher Ben Wurtsmith was a kid, the county didnt yet have a 4-H program. But by the time he had children of his own, 4-H was in full swing. His grandchildren, too, were 4-Hers.County fair is a pretty big deal for country people, notes Wurtsmith. He says 4-H taught lessons in responsibility.Wurtsmith recalls how his kids loved the animals they were raising for the fair.They kind of bond with the animals … then, of course, they hate to sell it, and send it off to be slaughtered, but thats all part of life, says Wurtsmith.

Former Eagle County 4-Her Scott Jones, 27, will return to the Eagle County Fair this year as a competitor at the rodeo. Hes a roper, and is on the rodeo circuit this summer.His 4-H projects typically involved animals his parents, Steve and Linda, owned a horse riding stable at Beaver Creek and were active in 4-H and the county fair.Scott remembers the many early morning 4-H horse shows and expos; and the Little Britches Rodeo competitions.I think 4-H really set the foundation for me for the career in my life, he says. When hes not on the rodeo circuit, Jones works locally for the current owner of the horse stable, shoes horses, and does some horse buying and selling.Horses were always the area where Scott shined in 4-H. He won grand champion honors six years in a row; and has particularly fond memories of a white Arabian horse that he named Ahab.He also remembers a particularly wild black steer that was once his 4-H project. The steer had a talent for getting away from Scott, even while at the fair.He got loose twice. He never ran over a kid, but he would give adults a run for their money. He was one mean cow, Scott says. Ultimately, the steer was bought at the Fair Stock Sale by local bank president Phil Frank.One important lesson Scott learned through 4-H was not to procrastinate. He also remembers participating in the Junior Leadership programs, which was sort of like a kid-operated Fair Board.Hes looking forward to coming back to this years Eagle County Fair.I have fond memories of being a little kid, and growing up there in that arena. To still be able to go back and compete in that arena in front of the town of Eagle is really a great opportunity. It is a rodeo I always hit, no matter where Im at, he says.

At the Burns ranch home of Bud and Margie Gates, 4-H activities dominated summers for their children. Of course, the kids all had plenty of home chores to do, but during their spare time, they were all members of the Burns Hole 4-H club.The Gates girls Vienna Sue, Nancy and Tami all completed sewing and animal projects and modeled their garments at the Eagle County Fair Fashion Revue. All three also say 4-H taught them important lessons about responsibility.You learned how to make sure you finished what you started, says Vienna Sue (Gates) Sours.Sours racked up an impressive list of 4-H accomplishments. She was Eagle County fair and rodeo queen attendant, and a sewing grand champion. She modeled her garments at the Colorado State Fair and was chosen as a delegate to the national 4-H convention in Washington D.C.We boarded a Continental Trailways bus and took off across the country, she says. We met people from all over. During convention, the delegates attended classes and workshops that were geared toward molding future leaders for the organization. In Sours case, it worked she was a 4-H leader for three years in Grand Junction and two years in Ignacio. All three of her children were also 4-Hers.Nancy (Gates) Becker also completed 4-H sewing projects and she branched out to cooking and she raised a catch-it calf. That animal husbandry project proved to be a bittersweet experience.Eagle Ranch gave me a mean Charolais cow. On the ranch, we only had Hereford cattle, says Becker. She was afraid of women. My dad and brothers could do all kinds of things with her, but Id step in the corral and she would act up.Becker has a 4-H notebook that details her travails with the cow, month after month. She even got special permission to sedate the animal at fair, but she still ended up showing it from the confines of a pen. After the fair, Eagle Ranch gave me a new catch-it cow, she says with at laugh. Raising that animal was quite an experience.Becker also traveled to the state fair as a sewing grand champion. She modeled a wool coat she had designed herself and a velvet formal gown. 4-H, for me, was just an awesome experience. I started out when I was 9 years old making an apron and my final project was my wool coat, she says. I still have the clothes I made and I can still wear my coat. I havent tried on my velvet formal lately, though.She says 4-H taught her how to be responsible and to be meticulous in her sewing. Every year we were up until midnight or after trying to get our sewing projects done, says Becker.Thats a memory Tami (Gates) Schmidt shares. Like her sister, Schmidt won top honors at the Eagle County Fair and modeled a wool coat at the Colorado State Fair. When you go to the state fair with your garment, thats a bit step, she says. At state fair, its the best of the best.Schmidt says the Burns Hole 4-H club was a particularly tight-knit group. She remembers talking with all the other kids, and how 4-H projects seemed to consume their summers.But it was worth it at the end, she notes.

Talk to 1960-era members of the Burns Hole 4-H club and chances are they will recall their 4-day camping adventure on the Flattops.Under the leadership of Wilbur Luark, 28 club members and parents and 35 horses made the journey. Dads trekked in early to set up tents and moms planned meals for the camp-out. The 4-H kids fished daily to supplement the menu.Arch Andrews from the Colorado Division of Wildlife, who was also a reporter for Channel 9 in Denver, accompanied the group. He held workshops teaching the kids about wildlife and hosted an awards ceremony recognizing the 4-Hers work.The last day, the 4-Hers and some of the parents and leaders climbed Shingle Peak and planted the American flag on the top, recalls Marge Gates. A great time was had by all.


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