New face at local 4-H fair brings wealth of experience with her

Rae Ann O’Neill will be the new face in charge at this summer’s Huntington County 4-H Fair. For the past 29 years, she’s been coordinating the 4-H fair in Blackford County.
Rae Ann O’Neill will be the new face in charge at this summer’s Huntington County 4-H Fair. For the past 29 years, she’s been coordinating the 4-H fair in Blackford County. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published July 7, 2016.

Rae Ann O’Neill may be a new face to Huntington County 4-H, but 4-H isn’t new to her.

When the first events of the 2016 Huntington County 4-H Fair — the dog show and the tractor operators’ contest — take place this weekend, she’ll show up with some experience under her belt.

“This will be fair number 30 for me,” says O’Neill, who joined the Huntington County office of Purdue Extension in January.
She’s serving as Extension educator for 4-H youth development, the same position she held for 24 years in Blackford County. Before that, she was Blackford’s health and human sciences educator for five years.

The decision to come to Huntington was simple, she says.

“After that many years, I wanted a change,” she says. “Blackford is a great county, but after doing the same things for 29 years, it was just time for a change.”

O’Neill succeeds Julia Miller as coordinator of the Huntington County 4-H program. Miller, who worked in Huntington County for three years, left last fall to serve as the 4-H youth development educator in Starke County, where she grew up.

O’Neill grew up in Allen County, graduating from Carroll High School and earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Ball State University. While at Ball State, she served an internship at the Delaware County Extension office.

She found her calling.

“I loved it,” she says. “I loved the variety, and that’s something I still love.”

As a kid, though, she wasn’t in love with 4-H.

“I was a one-year 4-H’er,” she says. “I had kind of a bad experience.”

She attributes her less-than-optimal experience to a lack of communication. Now that she’s in charge, communication is a top priority. She uses a website, email and printed materials to get information to the 4-H’ers and their families.

O’Neill says her goal is to help 4-H’ers be successful — not always winning the champion ribbon, but being able to follow the rules, complete the project and get it to judging.

And she believes that experience is key to developing youth who will be successful in the working world.

“I hear it over and over again, how employers can tell the difference between kids who have been in 4-H and those who haven’t been in 4-H,” O’Neill says.

The veteran 4-H’ers, she says, have learned leadership and responsibility; they’ve learned to accept constructive criticism, she says.

“That helps build character,” she says. “Those things prepare us for life’s lessons.”

The length of the Huntington County 4-H Fair — activities take place over three weeks, July 9 through July 28 — is another positive, she believes. Spreading out the events gives the 4-H’ers the opportunity to try new things and gain more experiences.

“The great thing about that is it allows our kids not to have to choose,” she says. “Not to have to decide, ‘Am I going to show my dog, or my pig?’”

The dog show on Saturday, July 9, kicks off 4-H Fair activities for 2016, with a parade and royalty contest on July 15, serving as the official opening of the fair.

One change from past years is a new location for the llama/alpaca show on July 18, which has been moved from the Chief LaFontaine Saddle Club to the Huntington County Fairgrounds, making it more convenient for spectators.

“Hopefully, more people will come to the actual fairgrounds to see the show,” she says.

The week of July 18 will be a whirlwind of activity, with non-livestock project judging taking place and, at the end of the week, animals being moved to the fairgrounds.

The fairgrounds will be home to livestock shows, exhibits and other activities July 23 through July 28.

Here’s a schedule of major 4-H Fair events. Unless otherwise noted, all activities are at the Huntington County Fairgrounds.

July 9 — Run 4-Health, 8 a.m.; dog show, 10 a.m.

July 10 — Tractor operators’ contest, 1 p.m.

July 15 — 4-H parade, 6:30 p.m., starting at Jefferson Street and Etna Avenue and traveling Briant Street to the fairgrounds; royalty contest, 8 p.m., Union Church.

July 16 and 17 — Horse and pony show, 9 a.m. both days, Chief LaFontaine Saddle Club.

July 18 — Llama/alpaca show, 6 p.m.

July 19 — Cat show, 6 p.m.

July 23 — Goat showmanship, 9 a.m.; Master Gardener programs, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; dairy show, noon; poultry show, noon; rabbit ambassadors contest, 1 p.m.; sheep show, 5 p.m.

July 24 — Worship service, 9 a.m.; goat show, 10 a.m.; market rabbit show, 12:30 p.m.; family fun night, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.; antique tractor parade, 5:30 p.m.

July 25 — Swine show, 8 a.m.; Ladies’ Day activities, 10 a.m. to noon; antique tractor parade, 5:30 p.m.; consumer clothing and fashion revues, Friend of Extension award, outstanding 4-H leader award and 10-year awards, all at 7 p.m.; entertainment by Allan Craig, 8 p.m.

July 26 — Beef show, 9 a.m.; breeding rabbit show, 2 p.m.; Master Gardener youth program, 2 p.m.; kiddie tractor pull, 2:30 p.m.; Canine Capers dog demonstration, 6 p.m.; pet and hobby parade, 7 p.m.; entertainment by Rylie Lynn, 8 p.m.

July 27 — Starter calf show, 8 a.m.; supreme showmanship contest, 2 p.m.; 4-H awards program, scholarship presentations and parade of champions, 6 p.m.; spirit night, 7:30 p.m.

July 28 — Livestock auction, 9 a.m.