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Serving: IL

Making a COVID-19 difference, for the kids

Holly Spangler girl showing a beef cow
SHOWING: So many county fairs worked hard but were unable to hold a fair this year; independent (and temporary) shows have popped up in their place.
Kids have lost a lot in this quarantine business, from FFA to livestock shows and more. But they’ve gained a lot, too, thanks to good people in ag and their communities.

I remember when it happened: Somewhere in early May, we sat watching a video that our young friend, Conley Schick, put together with a bunch of cattle friends — clips of dozens of kids catching a show stick, setting up a heifer, then tossing the show stick out of the frame.

“There’s Claire!” “And look at Jasper and Emmy!” “And wow, look at Gracie’s heifer!”

One by one, my kids each said it: “I miss all these people.”

“And what if we don’t get to see them this summer?”

If there was a low point in the quarantine, that was it. It was the pang of loss and needing your people. My husband and I felt the same way. Spring was wonderful, and we got to miss school and run tractors and pull calves. But what would happen this summer? What about our friends? What about preview shows and junior nationals and county fairs?

The answer is that it all got canceled — and then resurrected. And that happened because of a lot of good people. 

The preview show got pushed back, relocated and shortened. But it happened. Outdoors and mostly socially distanced, and organized by people who worked their butts off. The junior national got shortened and moved to another state with fewer COVID-19 cases. Virtually everything happened outside or in big open-air barns. If it was inside, you wore a mask. But it happened — because a handful of people worked their butts off.

Our county fair is canceled, but the kids got to show in a one-day show organized by, you guessed it, people working their butts off.  

Stockmen’s for the win

Sure, these are just livestock shows. I get that. But it’s also not overly dramatic to say these efforts are getting us through. We’re washing our hands and wearing masks and keeping distance. But we’re showing up as a family and working as a family. That’s still important.

They get that in Saline County, too. The very day Illinois 4-H canceled in-person shows, Dan Evans and the rest of the Saline County Stockmen’s Association board started meeting. Four meetings later, they had planned a full-blown livestock show, plus horse and small-animal shows, plus tractor operator contests. They paid $18,000 worth of premiums. They spent $1,200 on bedding. They hosted an auction, just like they always do.  

How? That’s the best part: Saline County Stockmen’s has been around since 1990 and raised nearly half a million dollars in that time. Last year’s fundraising banquet netted $41,000.

You read that right: $41,000.

Their mission is pretty simple: Spend money on youth in Saline County. With the nearly $500,000 they’ve raised in the past 30 years, they’ve bought fans and gates for kids, helped pay for livestock projects and vet bills, put down bedding at every fair for every kid. They’ve propped up the bottom end of the auction (“for kids who don’t have a parent farming a thousand acres,” Evans says). They’ve bought a lot of paint and paid for repairs on the fairgrounds. They hand out $4,000 in scholarship money every year — and they awarded those scholarships at the auction this year, since graduations and awards nights were canceled.

The list keeps going.

“We pay half for any kid that wants to leave the county for any kind of 4-H or FFA leadership conference,” Evans says with a laugh. “And we dole out lots of money beyond livestock projects.”

Leveraging resources

Officially, Saline County is one of just eight county fairs happening in Illinois this year, partly because they’re a long way from Chicago but mostly because they had the historical resources and the people to make it happen. The Stockmen’s board worked closely with the fair board (with a fair amount of crossover members), the sheriff, the insurance company and the health department to get this done. The fair donated water, power and the grounds.

Local businesses are on board for the auction. “They told us, ‘We’re not spending it on sports or church camps now, let’s spend it on these kids — they’ve done the work already,’” Evans says.

And at that auction? The Stockmen’s raised $81,350 for 65 kids on a Friday afternoon.

Know this: One pig in that auction belonged to Tyler Anderson. Tyler would have been a senior at Galatia High School this fall; in late April, he was killed in a car accident. Tyler, 17, loved to farm and competed in FFA state proficiency awards the very day he was killed. His gilt sold 15 times with six standing ovations, and brought $50,000. 

After the auction, person after person tapped Evans on the shoulder: “I’ll add a thousand.” It’ll all go to the Galatia FFA, Tyler’s chapter. 

It was hard. And it was beautiful. And it made a difference. 

“It wasn’t the $50,000,” Evans says. “It was the love with those dollars.”

Here’s what I know. Good people make a difference for good kids. A community remembered one family’s son. And they’re making a difference for his friends. 

That’s the question really: COVID or no, how can you make a difference?

Comments? Email holly.spangler@farmprogress.com.

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