Always ready for the Sublette County Fair

SUBLETTE COUNTY – One of the best parts about our Sublette County Fair is how well it targets and celebrates the longtime tradition of not only surviving – but also thriving – with ingenuity, resourcefulness, humor and a strong dash of neighborly cooperation and competition.

There’s no question the spotlights are aimed on the 4-H and FFA kids who have spent the past year learning how to care about – and for – an animal or creative project that reflect his or her dedication to learning new skills and important lessons.

That’s what I love about 4-H.

Whether the animal is a chicken, rabbit, cat, dog, goat, sheep, beef or swine, or the project is hand-tooled, fondant-covered, quilted, welded or painted, the goals are the same. That is to start at the beginning and learn by yourself and from others how to accomplish the goals you’ve set. In turn, you can help others reach their goals.

Having lived in Bondurant for about 17 years now, I am somewhat partial to the North Star Feeders 4-H Club. I’ve known some of the club’s current members since before they were babies.

When I first moved there, the club was very small for the few ranch kids who lived close enough to join. I remember Lennie Campbell being the leader, with sister (and aunt) Katherine close at hand, keeping the 4-H club going so Walden, then Anna and then cousin Jenni could participate. Several others joined and came to Bondurant for the meetings.

All participated at the fair every summer, raising, showing and selling their steers, lambs and pigs through a decade’s worth of Junior Livestock Sales supported by generous neighbors and businesses.

Most of those years, the handful was the North Star Feeders – which meant a lot of parents helped out with the annual car wash at the Branding Iron Café.

Walden and Anna graduated in turn and went off to college and meetings shifted away from Lennie’s home. Being active in 4-H and FFA shaped their confidence and poise. For those who don’t know, Anna starts soon as Pinedale’s new ag teacher.

As Stacy Saunders’ oldest son Garrett grew old enough to join, she stepped in as leader to help out. As the new leader with a couple more sons coming of age, Stacy welcomes new families moving into and growing up in the Hoback Basin.

The North Star Feeders 4-H Club now has 19 boys and girls, all of them participating with the Sublette County Fair this week.

When I was their age, it was expected that we kids would join Scouts or 4-H, whichever happened to be closest. After selling Girls Scout cookies for several years, we moved to the outer edge of an even smaller town, Lisle, N.Y., where 4-H club members lived many miles and fields apart. The county fairgrounds was in Whitney Point, N.Y., where I graduated from high school.

Besides expanding my limited physical horizon, belonging to 4-H stretched my skillset. Tall and gawky, though, showing off my sewing skills while modeling a lime green and daffodil yellow shift (yes, hands in pockets, awkward turns and feet posed just so) for The Dress Revue was not my favorite experience.

It was a lot more fun to hang out with the other kids who got to ride their horses or scratch dairy and beef bellies with a show stick. We watched horse pulls, harness races and carnie games and I’d help a fellow member lead a second steer or heifer in The Livestock Parade. Invariably someone’s half-tamed animal tore loose and frolicked around the racetrack.

One of my favorite parts of the Broome County Fair was visiting the open-air barns where dairy and beef farmers from neighboring counties showed off their livestock. These grownups usually brought their kids who ran with us and without doubt broadened some social horizons.

Back to here and now.

The Sublette County Fair’s schedule outside of the daily 4-H/ FFA classes and contests includes many more ways to celebrate your rural inner child with the petting zoo, pig wrestling, horse pulls or even the rowdy halfway-real-looking mechanical bull.

A testament to those local 4-Hers past the age of 18, many in turn join Green River Valley Cowbelles and the Cattlemen’s Association – whose Philly cheesesteaks, Sublette Bred & Raised market sheep and beef contests and sponsorships have created longstanding fair traditions.

Throw in salt lick sculptures, worn-out cowboy hat contests and recycled western artworks, and everybody can find something to make them smile.