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Emily Hackler, 16, of Deer Park, washes her hereford steer, Bandit, during the La Salle County 4-H Fair in Ottawa on Thursday. Hackler has been involved in 4-H and raising and showing cattle since she was 7. She said her favorite part is getting to know the animals’ personalities. Animal judging continues through until Sunday.
OTTAWA — Rock and Ellie Radtke couldn’t wait. They shuffled their feet closer and closer to the nearest barn at the 4-H fairgrounds while their mother, Liz, grabbed one more thing from the trunk. This was the first 4-H fair experience for the Radtkes. And so far, mom, and the two young Cloverbud members of the Peru Pouncing Panthers have found 4-H “really fun.” “We reach out to community members by giving donations and making crafts for people in nursing homes and learn how to grow vegetable gardens,” Liz said. “It’s just a really neat experience for them and now I wish I had been in 4-H when I was young.” 4-H club members are holding their annual La Salle County 4-H Show and Junior Fair through Sunday in Ottawa. The event will feature a variety of activities from livestock showing, parades, rodeos, demolition derbies and more. It’s also a time for 4-H club members to show the community everything they have to offer and what they are learning. 4-H clubs began in the late 1800s as researchers at public universities saw adults in agricultural communities weren’t accepting new innovations in farm technology. However, they did find their children were open to new thinking. From that premise 4-H clubs began to pop up across the nation. University experts taught rural youth innovative agricultural technology so they could incorporate them into their communities. Nowadays, 4-H has grown to include more than just agricultural technology. Hundreds of children scrambled throughout the exhibit hall to view what their friends and peers entered in contests ranging in projects such as photography, electronics, cooking and woodworking. And in nearby barns were the traditional livestock shows where children displayed chickens, sheep, horses, and other animals. At one project table, a group of children stood around dozens of model rockets. That’s where Mendota resident Matthew Grenter displayed his three foot long Astro Eliptic II. Grenter explained details of his two-engine rocket, how quickly it could zip into the air, and that it took him about a week to build and spray paint. “This is fun,” he said. “I like to show horses and build rockets.” The 4-H experience has been passed down from generation to generation. It has given children an opportunity to not only learn about future technology and make lifelong friends but also learn about the past. In a contest section titled “Do Your Own Thing,” Martha Hoffman of Earlville created a display called “My Dad’s Youth on the Farm.” The display featured many old photos of her late father, Kenneth Hoffman, doing various things on a farm. In one picture he was standing next to his milking shorthorn heifer. In another he was feeding a lamb as a toddler. At the center of the display was a worn out, blue corduroy jacket with the Future Farmers of America emblem sewn on the left chest. The jacket served as a backdrop for dozens of accommodations and trophies her father had won. Martha Hoffman wasn’t available for an interview at the fair Thursday, but the contest questionnaire she filled out was on display for everyone to read. Question Two asked her to list a few things she learned or insights gained from the project she created. Most of her answers explained how she enjoyed researching her family’s past and finding all of the old photos. But one of her answers, book-ended by a star and exclamation point, stood out the most. It read: “My dad was awesome!”