A 44-year-old Story County woman said she bleeds green — that’s how much Eileen Miller, who lives in Colo’s rural area, loves 4-H and the county fair, which officially starts in Nevada tomorrow.
Miller can trace her green blood all the way back to her childhood, growing up in northeast Polk County, south of Farrar. Her mother was the local 4-H club leader of the Levi’s ‘n Lace club, which Miller, a fourth generation Iowa 4-H member, became part of as soon as she was in fourth grade.
“There wasn’t the Clover Kid program then, so you couldn’t start any kind of 4-H until fourth grade,” she remembers, but because her mom was so involved in 4-H, Miller said she started going along to club meetings before she even started school, looking forward to the day she would be an official 4-H’er.
Eventually it happened — she was a member, along with many other kids who went to her school and her church. “The ‘Farrar’ kids still get together when we can,” she said of her fellow 4-H’ers. They like thinking back to the days of their 4-H activities, which included the Polk County Fair, held at the same location as the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. Miller served on the County Council (similar to Story County’s Leadership Team) when she got into high school and was involved a lot during the fair, helping with things like the teen dance at the Cattle Barn Annex. She also served on the Area Council, and in her senior year of high school, was elected to the State 4-H Council. These duties, along with her own projects, created lots of memories indeed.
But as many activities and memories as Miller has from her youth, she said it is now, as a mother of four, that she is making her favorite fair memories as she has watched her four daughters, Emily, 22, Claira, 15; and twins Lillian and Sarah, 14, go through 4-H and the county fair.
“I’m so proud to watch them, knowing that they have the drive to pursue their goals,” she said. As members of the Richland Royals 4-H Club, the girls have made lifelong friends, as has Miller.
A favorite fair memory, she said, was when Claira was 6 and participated in her first Clover Kid’s show and tell. “She had had many challenges in her early child development, and I remember her standing there so proud, speaking clearly into the microphone about her exhibit. There was crying for me,” Miller said.
There was more mom-crying when her oldest, who is a senior at ISU in animal science/agriculture and society, did her last horse class last year at the fair. “The judge commented about this promising young lady and what a good horsewoman she was. I believe she said something about being consistently the best rider all weekend. I can’t remember, because I was too busy with more mom-crying. I’m sure I’ll be the same way at some point for the other girls, too.”
Her children all started 4-H in kindergarten through the Clover Kids, and have been very involved in 4-H since. Emily, now too old to be in it, has been serving as an adult volunteer this year with the horse project and is one of the coaches for Horse Judging and Horse Quiz Bowl.
Claira, like her mother, now serves on the Story County Leadership Team.
Miller said her husband and the girls’ father, Todd, who did not grow up in 4-H, has been great about all the 4-H and fair things that happen at his household. “He didn’t see all this coming … but he’s been very supportive and willing to help me, whether it’s painting lines for the campground, taking care of whatever critters we leave at home during the fair or just being so supportive and understanding. He’s been great.”
On top of being a busy mom with kids in 4-H and the fair, Miller has also been serving on the Story County fair board for about 14 years now. Her work on the board, she said, allows her to be part of a team working to “do our best to make the fair a positive experience for all.”
Miller also manages the campground area at the county fair, helps 4-H’ers work on exhibits, holds workshops and judges static exhibits. Busy as it all is, getting all her responsibilities handled while being a mom watching what her kids are doing, too, Miller said the best thing about it — “My entire family is in one place for six days.”
The other great things about the county fair are pie — the church ladies and their pie — hot beef sundaes and snocones. And there’s more that doesn’t include the concessions stands. “Seriously, I love the smiles from the kids receiving their recognition for their hard work. I don’t care if it is Grand Champion Market Steer or a ribbon on a plate of cookies, what it means to that 4-H’er has no monetary value,” she said.
For those who have never experienced a Story County Fair, Miller believes there’s no time like the present to do it. She thinks what those people will find, may be some of what she has found, “being in the moment, watching the 4-H’ers and FFA members forge friendships that are going to last their lifetimes.” And through all of it, watching kids learn about hard work, success, disappointment and the value of putting others before themselves. That’s all part of what the county fair, and 4-H/FFA, is all about. And, of course, the pie. “They are missing out on pie!,” she said.
County fairs are special, she notes. “They will always have a special place in my heart. It is an honor to be chosen to take your exhibits to the state fair, or sign up to take your livestock, of course, but at the county fair level, everyone is welcome and celebrated, no matter what ribbon color you receive.”
And when the county fair ends, there is that wonderful Iowa State Fair — “What’s not to love!,” Miller said — waiting to be enjoyed.
“The state fair is kind of the cherry tomato on top of the hot beef sundae,” she concluded.