County fair magic: Connecting the generations makes lifetime memories

What happens when you start a Senior Citizen Showmanship contest — and let the kids judge it? In our experience, some priceless family memories.

Holly Spangler, Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer

October 9, 2019

2 Min Read
Spangler generations
Holly Spangler

Editor’s note—Every once in a while, I run across a blog that’s too good not to share. This is one of those times.

This blog is written by Holly Spangler, editor of Prairie Farmer. She’s one of my co-editors in the Farm Progress family and a writer whose work I enjoy reading. I think you’ll enjoy it, too. And perhaps glean an idea for next year’s county fair.  BR


Ever get an idea, and it’s so good that it snowballs into a whole other good idea?

That’s exactly what happened at our county fair. On a whim in 2018, beef superintendents launched the first-ever Vintage Showmanship contest. It was a make-up-the-rules-as-we-go rousing success, so they did it again this year.

Then, based on a whole lot of interest from grandmas and grandpas, they added another class: Senior Citizen Showmanship, for the 65-plus set. It was every bit as nerve-wracking and heartwarming as you might imagine.

The grandmas and grandpas rolled into the ring, leading the calves vetted by their families as most tame and least likely to break an artificial hip. Or knee. I’m here to tell you, those folks were grinning from ear to ear. My mother-in-law and her sister shared the ring, each with a calf, for the first time in decades. I’m guessing they started showing together at that fair some 70 years ago.

Related:10 Best Photos Featuring Generations On The Ranch

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And the judges? No less than the teenage showmanship winners, who happened to be two pairs of siblings. My kids made up one of the pairs.

Those grandparents weren’t the only ones grinning from ear to ear. Getting to judge the parents and grandparents is now the most prestigious prize for winning senior showmanship.

In the end, the sibling judges huddled up, walked out and proudly picked their grandmas as co-winners. Friends, you’ve hardly seen happier grandmas. And kids. And every person in the bleachers.

This is the life, isn’t it? Agriculture, thanks to 4-H and FFA and county fairs, gives kids and parents and grandparents the opportunity to span decades and share an experience. To show in the same ring. To cheer for each other and to make a memory that’ll last a lifetime.

Now that’s a good idea.


About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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