Like it or not, for many people, 4-H livestock shows are abut winning and losing. Yet when the show is over, when the pens are cleaned out, the last trailer pulls away and the lights go out, it's how that show helped develop young people that matters.
Judges like to pump up the crowd with such reminders before they pick winners. I've heard many in my time. But I've never heard a better one, or a more heartfelt one, than Warren Beeler, Caneyville, Kentucky, delivered at the Indiana State Fair Grand Champion Drive in the Pepsi Coliseum on Monday, Aug. 6.
It was scalding hot and steamy at the same time Monday. I can't stand either one. If the son of a long-time family fiend didn't have a pig in the grand drive, I probably would have loaded our pigs and left. By 6 p.m., our youngest, the only showman we have left in 4-H, Kayla, said, "Dad, we really should go see the drive. We should support our friends, the Gaughans. I'll help you get them unloaded, even if it's midnight." Well, it was 11:30 p.m., but she made the right call.
When it came time for the Grand Champion Barrow Drive, they brought out the champions one by one. Beeler shook each young person's hand, and even took off his cap for each young lady.
He studied the pigs for a few minutes, then took the mike. He made the traditional thank-yous a state fair judge would make to the barn crew and staff who had done a great job for three full days. I expected him to say 'Now we'll talk about the pigs and I'll go out and select your grand champion barrow."
That's not what came next. Instead, he begged the audience's indulgence, and said he wanted to talk about his family first. He and his wife were the proud parents of five kids. One is ready to be a nuclear engineer, another a teacher, the next one also pursuing a challenging career. Then he paused.
"Our youngest is a special kid," he said. "She was born severely disabled. We wrung our hands and didn't know what to do. How could this have happened to us?
"But we moved forward, and today, at 19, she's the greatest joy. She's the perfect child. She's always so glad to see me when I get home, and does whatever I ask. She's a blessing."
Another pause. So far, he'd only mentioned four kids. "My oldest daughter, Emily, we loved her so much. She was coming home one night and someone crossed the center lien and hit her head on.
"We miss her terribly. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about her."
"Parents and 4-H'ers, when this show is over, not just you guys in the ring, but everybody who's shown here, give each other a hug. Let each other know you love them. The important thing about 4-H isn't the hogs, it's kids and families."
With that, Beeler made the fewest comments about the actual pig I've ever heard. He pointed toward the reddish-tinged crossbred and said, "He walks like a cat, he looks like a leopard, he's a great one! Congratulations."
With that, Matt Gaughan, our friend's son, won grand champion barrow at the Indiana State Fair. As Beeler picked the other spotlight sale pigs, Kayla and I hurried down to the Pepsi Coliseum floor to congratulate our friends. When we finally got to the pen, Candy, Matt's mom, my friend since she was a baby, was in the middle of the pen next to the pig, holding her great niece, less than a year old.
It was a fitting moment. Cana Guilfoy, Candy's great niece, is one of those 'special kids' Beeler described as his youngest daughter. She's also a sweetheart.
Life doesn't come full circle any better than that!