‘Bittersweet’ fair finale
Wesley Callahan won't be wrapping up his duties as a 4-H member until he finishes up a conference in November, unlike many of his peers.
Most local 4-H'ers finish their years of service at the Douglas County Fair, which officially began Saturday in Lawrence. Callahan, a Palmyra 4-H Club member and recent Baldwin High School graduate, is looking forward to his trip to Atlanta in the fall.
"I think it will be a good break from school," Callahan said. "It will be my last official function as a 4-H'er. I'll go down there and represent the state at this event."
Callahan will be attending George Washington University in Washington D.C. The day after Thanksgiving he will be flying to Atlanta for the National 4-H Congress.
That trip will conclude his 11 years of service to the Palmyra 4-H Club. The past 11 months have kept Callahan thinking about all of the events and programs he will no longer be a part of.
"Your senior year of high school is always a year of lasts," Callahan said. "As you get closer and closer to college, you realize it's the last time you will be doing a lot of stuff. It's one of those bittersweet moments."
4-H fair finale
Emily Krysztof, fellow Palmyra 4-H Club member and recent BHS graduate, has known Callahan for years. However, she isn't quite ready to end her time at the Douglas County Fair, which ends Aug. 5.
"I have mixed feelings about the fair this year," Krysztof said. "It's so much fun and it doesn't hit you until you are there and realize how much fun it is. I'm not saying I'm ready to get it over with just yet, but I am looking forward to the fair."
After being in 4-H for 11 years, Callahan also has mixed feelings about his finale.
"This will be my last year and my last fair," Callahan said. "It's bittersweet. I've enjoyed 4-H and if I didn't, I wouldn't still be in it. There are always some fun moments at the fair and this will be my last year to enjoy it."
Callahan will compete in the beef show, crop judging and photography contests this year. Although he considers the beef show to be his main event, Callahan has found that he can tie all three contests together.
"Beef has always been my thing," Callahan said. "I tie it to the other projects, because they all intertwine with each other. You can take pictures of the cows and you have to feed the crops to your cows. You can tie everything back into your one main project."
He will be showing a steer and heifer at this year's beef show. In previous years, he has shown more but he is trying to downsize this year as he prepares for college and his life ahead.
Although he is decreasing the number of cows he shows, the beef show has increased its head of cattle this year. The irony has Callahan laughing with joy.
"I've actually downsized this year," Callahan said. "The beef project of the fair has actually gone up, which was a goal of ours. It's funny that the year I almost take the minimal amount, the total number of entries has increased dramatically."
Callahan might not be bringing as many cattle to the fair this year, but that isn't going to stop him from enjoying time with friends. Those are the memories he will carry with him through life, not the awards.
"Moments that will live with you are the moments you have with your friends," Callahan said. "We always have a water fight at the end of the fair. That is always memorable. Winning a blue ribbon or championship is an accomplishment that you've reached, but it's not as memorable as being with your friends."
The water fight has become the highlight of the event for fair-goers. It takes place outside of the main livestock building after most of the fair is over. Callahan said the interest has increased in recent years and it's become an event that everyone awaits.
"It's grown over the years," Callahan said. "You can't really say it's one person or one group's thing. It used to just be the beef kids, but now it's a countywide thing. There is a scheduled time and we have adult supervisors. It's a big deal.
"It's a free-for-all," Callahan said. "I end up getting thrown in the water trough a couple of times. It seems like when I show up, everybody attacks me. I kind of play it up during the week, so there is some enticement on my part for them to get me."
Since the water fight only happens once during the fair, the 4-H'ers find other ways to keep themselves entertained. Another one of those ways is playing cards.
According to Callahan, they eventually get tired of playing cards by the end of the fair, but the memories are worth the experience.
"During the day it does get hot and we do get bored," Callahan said. "We play cards and more cards. The little kids don't know many games, so you end up playing the same games over and over. By the middle of the second day, you are tired of playing Go-Fish. It's a lot of fun though."
Krysztof will also miss the camaraderie that she has with the other 4-H members in the county.
"Hanging out with your friends is definitely the best part of the fair," Krysztof said. "We all have something in common, but we go beyond that when we are with each other. You grow close to those people."
Although Callahan prefers memories with friends to awards, he still enjoys some of the honors he has received. He's been awarded many ribbons and honors during his years in the 4-H, except one that he would like this year.
That one is the Good Manners Award. There is a committee that selects a recipient each year. Although one nomination makes some eligible each year, Callahan said it's not an award that someone can purposely try to win each year.
"The biggest award at the fair for the livestock exhibitor is the Good Manners Award," Callahan said. "It's the culmination of all of your years in 4-H. Just being nominated is a terrific achievement. If I don't win it, it's not like I am going to be heart broken, but it would be a nice way to cap off a 4-H career."
During his time as a 4-H member, Callahan has also held several titles with the Palmyra Club and many state committees. He is currently the 4-H Council president of Douglas County.
"I've held a wide array of offices," Callahan said. "It has kept me busy. As I look back, it kept me busy during June, even as I try to wind down this summer.
"When you have school, that is definitely the No. 1 priority," Callahan said. "There are evenings where you get out of school, run to Lawrence and you are up there until 8 or 9 o'clock. Then you come back and do homework."
Krysztof and Callahan have grown up together in the Baldwin City area. She knows that 4-H has helped make Callahan who is he today and hopes it brings him success in the future.
"4-H has given him an outlet to be himself and he thrives in it," Krysztof said. "It's his atmosphere. There are so many aspects of 4-H that have helped him become so well rounded."
Callahan will soon be leaving for college to study economics and political science. He became interested in politics during his first 4-H trip to Washington D.C. three years ago.
He only has one month until he heads off to college and he is trying to enjoy his final days as a 4-H member from Baldwin City.
"Like I said, it's bittersweet," Callahan said of leaving for school. "I am trying to take things one step at a time. I don't leave for George Washington until Sept. 2. So, I have all of August left before I have to leave. I haven't even bought a plane ticket yet."
Information on the Douglas County Fair can be found at www.dgcountyfair.com.