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Building friendships a plus for 4-H participants

Published: Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014 11:15 p.m. CST • Updated: Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014 11:21 p.m. CST
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(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Sara Johnson, 10, of Esmond leads her heifer out of the show ring after winning best in class Saturday at the Sandwich Fairgrounds.
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(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Cora Vandermeer, 18, of Sandwich, brushes her Netherland dwarf rabbit before showing him at the Sandwich Fairgrounds on Saturday.
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(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
A soapy hog awaits a rinse Saturday at the Sandwich Fairgrounds.
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(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
A rabbit peaks its head out of its cube Saturday during judging at the Sandwich Fairgrounds.
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(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Danielle Neisendorf, 19, preps her horse Saturday for the English equestrian class at the Sandwich Fairgrounds.

SANDWICH – Whether it's the first year or last year as a participant in 4-H, friendship is a big plus for many club members.

Taylor Rhoads, 9, of Genoa, and Christian Thurwanger, 19, of Sycamore, have a few things in common. They both participate in 4-H, raise hogs and have family members that influenced their interest in agriculture. Sunday, they were two of many participants in the 24th annual DeKalb County 4-H Fair at the Sandwich fairgrounds, but it was Rhoads' first experience as a participant and Thurwanger's last.

"Even though it's the last year I can participate, I've made friends that I'll have for the rest of my life," Thurwanger said. "It's amazing how something little like show pigs can have a big impact on your life."

Johnna Jennings, 4-H youth extension unit educator, said Sunday's auction was the culmination of a year's worth of work by children and teens to raise live animals, while working on the four cores of the organization, personal development of one's head, heart, hands and health.

After animals were auctioned off, they are able to use the money to take on another animal project for the next year. At this year's event, she said hundreds of animals were auctioned off, including hogs, steers, sheep, goats and chickens. She said 4-H teaches participants sportmanship, and how to be a graceful winner or a graceful loser.

"The kids are always helping each other," she said. "It's very family oriented, and people take each other under their wings. It's good, simple, wholesome fun."

Thurwanger joined 4-H at age 8, eager to participate in something many of his relatives had done. The cutoff age for being in 4-H is 18, so it was Thurwanger's last summer participating, but he doesn't plan to stray from agriculture. This fall he'll be a sophomore at Western Illinois University, studying agriculture education.

"My mom made this interesting comment once," he said. "She said if I stick around agriculture, I'll get to keep doing stuff like this the rest of my life. I've made so many friends and learned new things; it's really benefited me."

Rhoads said she enjoyed spending her first year of 4-H showing her hogs and getting experience in the field.

"I chose hogs because they're easy animals to take care of," she said. "And they're funny animals."

She is following in her father's footsteps, who participated in 4-H, as well.

"You get to meet new friends," she said. "Everybody is cheering you on and telling you you'll do great. You get to make friends and have a fun experience."

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