THE DECADE CLUB: 10-year 4-H’ers wrapping up their final appearances at the county fair

Garrett Friesen tends to his chores before his appearance in the Sheep Show on Wednesday, July 15. Garrett, like his brother, who also spent 10 years in 4-H, plans to attend Kansas State University. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

HANCOCK COUNTY — For the most dedicated of kids, 4-H isn’t just a pastime. It’s a way of life.

Just ask the 38 teens who are completing their 10th and final year in the Hancock County 4-H program.

They’ve spent endless hours, year after year, honing their skills and exploring new areas of interest through the program designed to teach young people leadership and life skills.

While mini 4-H events are held for kids as young as kindergartners, the traditional 4-H program is for kids in third through 12th grade, which means high school seniors are graduating from more than just high school.

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They’re also graduating from 4-H, where many have made their fondest memories and closest friendships.

“Some of my best friendships have been made in the cattle barn,” said Loren Matlock, who was a bit sad to be spending his final days at the fairgrounds as a 4-H member this week.

The recent Eastern Hancock High School graduate is wrapping up his 10th year in the program, for which he’s shown sheep, cattle, goats and swine.

His parents, Matthew and Shirley Matlock, own Matlock Farms in Greenfield, where they grow corn and soybeans and raise commercial angus cows.

“Eventually I’d like to come back to our farming operation and work in livestock marketing,” said Matlock, as he took a break between livestock shows on Wednesday at the county fair.

Matlock is taking a gap year before college to complete his duties as vice president of the southern region for Indiana FFA, for which he’ll travel the state advocating for agriculture and helping develop future leaders in the industry.

He then plans to attend Oklahoma State University, where he’ll study animal science.

It’s not uncommon for 10-year 4-H kids to head off to college to pursue agriculture-related studies.

Garrett Friesen is heading to Kansas State University, where he’ll study feed milling science this fall.

His big brother Grant just graduated from the same university and is now an agricultural engineer, working with tractors and related farming equipment.

Both were 10-year members of 4-H and active in FFA. Their parents, Kim and Karen Friesen, raise sheep at their rural Greenfield home.

Their mom couldn’t be happier about her sons’ experience growing up in the local 4-H program.

“It teaches them to be great leaders and teaches them so many great life skills,” she said, as her youngest son headed off to a cattle show in a nearby barn.

Even if kids aren’t interested in agriculture or weren’t raised on a farm, there are plenty of opportunities to learn and grow through 4-H, she said.

“I think 4-H is a great opportunity for the kids to learn about a wide variety of different things — whether it’s animal husbandry or robotics or cake decorating. There are so many things to choose from,” said the Greenfield mom, who encourages kids of all ages to give 4-H a try.

“I’d encourage them to just get involved and explore a number of different things to find their true interests,” she said.

For many 4-Hers, taking part in the program is a family affair. Cassidy Stephenson, 18, has enjoyed watching her younger siblings follow in her footsteps. While she’s wrapping up her 10th year of 4-H this year, her siblings — Mallory, 11; and Jackson, 15 — still have a several years left to enjoy.

An introvert at heart, Stephenson said being involved in 4-H has helped her to meet new people and make lifelong friends.

She recalls some challenges in the ring when her sheep wouldn’t behave as she wanted them to, but she mostly remembers quality time spent at the fairgrounds with her family and friends.

In her 10 years in 4-H, she’s shown sheep and cattle and done projects related to child development. “I’ve learned a lot and got to meet a lot of great people,” said Stephenson, who first got involved with the program as a kindergartner in mini 4-H.

“I think 4-H can teach you things you can take with you your whole life,” said the recent Eastern Hancock graduate, who is heading to Anderson University to study athletic training this fall.

It’s been an unusual year at the fair this year to say the least — with social distancing becoming the norm for now — but those graduating out of 4-H were thankful to be out at the fair this week.

“It’s been an odd year, but I’m really glad we were able to have the fair after all the hard work we put in. I know a lot of counties didn’t get to have theirs,” Matlock said.

Spending part of the summer at the fair with friends was one of the very best parts of growing up, he said.

One of his favorite memories are the times he and his friends would hook up their hog sprayers and have some epic water fights at the fairgrounds, cracking up and cooling off under the scorching summer sun.

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Here is this year’s class of 10-year 4-H members:

Rachel Bates

Rebekah Bogle

Landon Carmichael

Sierrah Diaz Croel

Ian Dunn

Levi Durham

Benjamin Emery

Lyndsi Foster

Walter Friesen

Paige Gardner

Alyson Godwin

Sydney Godwin

Elizabeth Harris

Josie Hockett

Kennedy Janes

Corina Jennings

Allison Kirklin

Malerie Kleiman

Kyle Lacy

Annmarie Lewis

Megan Long

Wyatt Looper

Loren Matlock

Riley Moss

Angelina Ostermyer

Maddi Ostermyer

Logan Overman

Julia Peterson

Chase Settergren

Grace Silcox

Cassidy Stephenson

Ashley Swango

Kolten Synesael

Riese Thornton

Paige Towle

Brandt Walden

Paige Wickard

Robert Yeager