EATON — A quarter of a century is a long time to show sheep, but it flew by for the Estep family.
Following in the footsteps of her sisters Candice and Amy, Faith Estep showed multiple species at the 170th Preble County Fair for the final time. Her performance was the final in 25 years of showing for the Estep family.
With parents Rick and Sheri watching as she entered the ring for the final time, it was an emotional experience as the family reflected on 25 years.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long,” Rick said.
Though the years of showing and time spent at various county and state fairs flew by, it all began seemingly yesterday with Candice showing for the first time.
“But really, I think back about Candice in that first year, she was so excited and happy to be here with our one lamb,” he said. “And, you know, you see that with all these little kids when they start today. I mean, that never changes.”
They had just one lamb in the first year, and the Estep family has since expanded their inventory as the kids became more comfortable with a variety of species. Sheep, goats, cattle and hogs have all been shown at various points throughout the years.
“Here we are 25 years later with 21 animals here for one kid,” he said. “Takes us three trailer loads to get everything here and another two or three trailers loads to get everything home, so we don’t do the fair like a lot of people do. We’re in it year-round for one thing.”
Rick and Sheri have had the opportunity to watch their kids grow and develop through 4-H, but through 25 years, they’ve seen a lot change in the overall landscape of 4-H as well.
“You know, we’ve seen a lot of changes too. A lot of changes and I guess the popular species, there are a lot more goats now. A lot of changes in facilities. They’ve made a lot of improvements,” he said. “But still, you know, you’ve got the kids. The kids come in with the same attitude every year here. The new ones, they’re always excited to be here.”
The attitudes that Rick speaks of are reflected in the way he and Sheri have raised Candice, Amy and Faith.
“It was never about raising good livestock,” he said. “It was always about raising good kids and the livestock is a way to do it. 4-H is a way to do it. They get a lot of experiences that are hard to replicate in any other activities.”
With those experiences come different challenges that some kids don’t have to face.
“They’ve lost a lot. They’ve won quite a few. They’ve been successful but they’ve also finished or had their share of finishing dead last in their class,” he said. “Our philosophy has been to try to have decent livestock. We were never going to have the best here because honestly that wasn’t the goal. The goal is that the kids get the full experience of the livestock and just keep doing it every year for 25 years.”
It isn’t a traditional upbringing with Faith having attended her first Preble County Fair at just six weeks old, but it’s one that she enjoyed, and it meant a lot to have her parents be so involved.
“It meant a lot having them around to be there. Not necessarily pushing me, but I don’t know, just being there to support me if I lost, not always getting mad or teaching me that it’s okay to lose,” Faith said. “It’s not all about winning or losing, it’s mostly about having fun and enjoying the time you get to spend with your animals and being able to have that bond between the animal and you just having the experience of being here.”
This goes along with the family’s idea of raising their children as participants and not spectators. Rick said that while each of the girls played sports in high school, none of them liked to watch and would rather play.
“That was kind of an attitude that I had hoped to instill in them, you know,” Rick said. “Life’s a participatory experience. You can’t be a spectator. You only get one crack at it, so you better dig in and be in the middle of it and be in the arena.”
25 years has also given them time to develop deep bonds and relationships within the Preble County and 4-H communities.
“We’ve seen a lot of people come and go in 25 years,” he said. “Most of them are here for 10 or maybe 15 years. We see people now and come back with their kids. We’ve got kids in [Faith’s] club who the parents were in 4-H with Candice. We’re seeing multiple generations now that we know.”
Showing for as many years as the Esteps have also lends to plenty of stories throughout the years.
“My story would be the night that [Rick] left and we had cattle, and the one got away from my one daughter and took off,” Sheri said. “We had to get some people to help us get her back to the barn.”
“So one got away,” Rick said. “You bring as many as we have for as many years we have, you’re gonna have a few get away.”
For next year’s fair, the family isn’t quite sure what they’re going to do yet. Without a kid showing, Rick recommended they adopt an eight year old so that they can go another 10 years.
Sheri will still be a 4-H advisor next year, but for the rest of the family, even after 25 years, they won’t be able to stay away.
“When the first week of August gets here, we will be at the Preble County Fair in some capacity,” Rick said.
Reach Braden Moles at 937-673-4056 or on Twitter @BradenMoles