4-H a nice niche for Nottinghams
Baldwin City's Braxton, Conner and Paris Nottingham are carrying on their family tradition of 4-H, which began with their grandparents.
All three children of David and Jeanne Nottingham are following in their parents' footsteps, just as their parents did years ago.
"My parents and brothers were in 4-H, so it was the thing to do," David said. "I grew up on a dairy farm, so I primarily showed dairy cattle. Jeanne showed horses and our kids have done cattle, sheep, horses, dogs and cats. They have also done cooking, clothing buymanship and all sorts of things."
Barbara Coggburn, Jeanne's mother, joined 4-H in 1943 when she became old enough.
"I think when I joined 4-H, you couldn't join until you were 10 years old," Coggburn said. "It was a one-day fair at the Haskell Stadium. Some of the other kids in school were in 4-H and I just couldn't wait to join."
The tradition of 4-H was then passed to her daughter, Jeanne, who enjoyed her time with 4-H.
"4-H was very popular, because there were a lot of different activities," Jeanne said. "We lived in the country, so if it wasn't 4-H, we didn't do much. That provided a lot of activities for us. It was kind of a social thing."
Braxton, the oldest of the Nottingham children, began participating in 4-H when he was eligible. He was able to enter in different events than his parents were.
"By the time they got old enough, which was 7-years-old for Braxton, they got to do different things than we did," Jeanne said. "He did sheep, which neither of us did. Each person kind of picks and chooses what they are interested in."
Once the children were old enough to participate, they began thinking of animals as pets, but that has changed.
"When they were younger, the sheep were like a pet," Jeanne said. "Sometimes it was very hard at the auction to let them go, so they have learned to treat them more as market animals. They all still have names, but they don't get as attached to them."
David and Jeanne have also learned that it is harder to convince their children to work.
"The older they get, the more they have to be pushed," Jeanne said. "At first, they are so excited, so it's really easy to get them to work. Then the newness kind of wears off and they know that they can cut a few more corners and get away with it."
Paris said the weather has in impact on how much she works with the animals.
"When it's really hot outside, we don't want to go out," Paris said. "They are like you've got to go out with the sheep."
The thought of participating in the fair keeps Braxton interested each year.
"It's fun to pass on the tradition," Braxton said. "The fair is the highlight of the year. It's hard to get so much stuff going sometimes. It keeps you pretty busy."
Staying fairly busy
The Nottinghams have been busy this week preparing for the annual Douglas County Fair that begins Saturday.
Some of the preparation began at the end of last week, when Paris and Conner went shopping for clothes.
"We are getting ready," Paris said. "Today (Friday) Conner and I went buymanship shopping."
On Monday and Tuesday evenings, the Nottinghams traveled to Lawrence to model clothes for the buymanship contest. The results of the contest will be announced at the fairgrounds next week.
The next event for the Nottinghams will be the horse show this weekend. The horse and sheep shows keep the family busy all year, unlike some of the other fair events.
"Some stuff you only prepare a week before, like the cooking," Braxton said. "Some stuff you work on all year long."
This year is the 100th anniversary of 4-H in Douglas County. Jeanne is excited about the celebration, because she hopes to see old friends.
"They have some fun activities planned to bring some of the alumni back," Jeanne said. "You might see some people you haven't seen in a long time. It really says a lot for 4-H, because it has been sustained for that long of a period. It has evolved a lot and has changed."
Highlight of the year
The county fair has been a very special event for all three generations of the Nottingham family, but all for different reasons.
"When you are younger, the fair is the highlight of the year," Conner said. "You go and you see everybody that you only see once a year sometimes, because you don't go to school with them. They don't do activities where you play them in sports.
"You see a lot of people and you have a lot of activities," Conner said. "You are there from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. just constantly in motion. It's a lot of fun."
David and Jeanne enjoy the fair because they can talk to old friends and parents of their children's friends.
"It's a big social time for the parents too," Jeanne said. "The kids go off and do their thing and the parents will congregate either in the barn or on the bleachers somewhere and visit."
Even Barbara's generation has fun at the fair, because it's also a social event for them.
"Even our parents and that generation is there, too," Jeanne said. "They are somewhere in their little niche visiting and seeing people that they don't see very often.
"It's kind of a family tradition," Jeanne said. "Mom is probably seeing people that she was in 4-H with and also seeing their children and grandchildren that are actually participating."
Although all generations of the family enjoy the annual fair for different reasons, they all agree it allows children to have some free time.
"It gives kids a chance to be kids," Jeanne said. "I think sometimes we get too programmed. We've got swimming lessons, basketball camps and baseball games. They just need to do some different things."
Paris said every year she hangs out with friends by goofing around.
"You can go and you can spend a whole day walking around and messing around with your friends," Paris said. "We like to have water fights."
While the Nottinghams have fun with their friends and family, they also enjoy seeing visitors at the fair.
"It is amazing with the crowd that comes through how many people have been in 4-H," David said. "They come through, just because they did it, they enjoy it and they like to see all of the exhibits."
Each year, Paris is amazed at all of the people that talk to her, because they know her parents.
"Even people who don't have anything to do with 4-H come because they know people like my mom or my dad," Paris said.
One noticeable change in the fair and 4-H for David is the number of urban children becoming involved. The Nottinghams have lived on a farm west of Baldwin for many years.
"One of the things that has changed is that it used to be for people who lived in the country," David said. "Now, they are making more programs for those kids who live in the city so they can join 4-H."
One reason for the increase may be the benefits of 4-H.
"Sports are great and good to do, but I don't know if they have the citizenship leadership skills that they can get from 4-H," Jeanne said.
Benefits of 4-H
When asked about the positive impact of 4-H, all of the Nottingham family had something beneficial to say about their experience.
"There are lots of benefits," Paris said. "He (Braxton) got lots of scholarships from 4-H. It makes you more outgoing, because you also have to give a lot of project talks."
They all agreed that important skills like public speaking are gained during 4-H.
"It's really good because it gives them a lot of poise," David said. "Talking in front of people is something they are going to be doing the rest of their lives. It's good to get those life skills started."
Even the Nottinghams' teachers have noticed the benefits of 4-H.
"A lot of the kids' teachers have asked us if our kids are in 4-H," Jeanne said. "They can tell that they are very comfortable giving a presentation in school. They can also set goals and be responsible."
Besides life skills, the Nottinghams have also benefited financially from their participation in 4-H.
"A lot of businesses sponsor the fair and they give savings bonds," Paris said. "We probably have a lot of savings bonds saved up."
Jeanne said Braxton has really seen the benefits as he has been saving those bonds and money for college when he attends Oklahoma State University this fall.
"Braxton has kind of seen the rewards of that, because he has about $850 in savings bonds and $1,000 in scholarships from 4-H," Jeanne said. "So if you keep working, it all adds up and pays off."
All three children have also participated in larger shows and had success.
"Besides the county level, they go to the state fair and the American Royal, which is considered to be a national show," Jeanne said. "They have done quite well there, too, with their horses. Braxton was the all-around winner for his age group at the American Royal one year. Paris was reserve champion for her age group two years ago."
But success doesn't always come easy, especially when Braxton enters the kitchen.
"Braxton in the kitchen is a bit of a nightmare," Jeanne said. "One year he was making this coffee cake and it was really good. We had made so many, that he made one I didn't think was very good, but we froze it anyway.
"He made one more and when he took it out of the pan, it wasn't cool enough, so part of it stayed in the pan," Jeanne said. "I told him no more coffee cakes and to pull that one out of the freezer and it's going to the fair. Low and behold, it was the grand champion of the fair that year. That goes to show, sometimes you go and do your thing and however it turns out, it turns out."
When the family has to prepare for an event or meeting, the Nottinghams know how to work together.
"When we have something at the house, it's not just me getting ready," Jeanne said. "We have to plan some sort of program. We have to pick up the house. We usually make cookies. It's a family effort."