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4-H tradition extends beyond county fair

Staff writer

The Marion County Fair is the year’s biggest event for many 4-H members, and participating has brought the Rzihas closer as a family.

It’s an opportunity to strengthen familial bonds.

“It’s become a tradition for our family,” Isabel Rziha said. “Around fair time I have a lot more interaction with my cousins.”

Jeanne Rziha, a 4-H leader of 29 years, and Isabel’s grandmother said 4-H is often passed from parents to children.

“Most of the kids in 4-H are the ones whose parents were in it,” she said.

Jeanne recently brought up that fact with her granddaughter Catharine.

“My grandmother helped me sew for 4-H,” she said. “I said to Catharine, ‘you know when you get big you have to help your grandchildren, too.’ ”

The fair is a major event, but there has been less participation over the years, said Isabel, who has been in 4-H for six years.

“When I first entered it was really the peak of 4-H,” she said. “There were a lot of people entering.”

The gradual decrease in participation can be a disadvantage for those still involved because it decreases the level of competition, Isabel said.

She enters several categories every year, but cooking and sewing are her mainstays.

Those two alone are major time commitments, Isabel said, so she starts planning early.

“For sewing I can do it a month or two ahead,” she said. “With cooking and baking, at the end of the fair one year I usually start practicing for the next year.”

One advantage to having a long history in competitions is that it allows for harder projects, Isabel said.

“I focused on cakes and cookies when I started baking, and with sewing I started off extremely simple,” she said. “As I’ve gone through, I realized I really enjoy making breads.”

She said the projects with kits, like Lego sets, allow 4-Hers to compete while working with a template.

“Building directly from a kit is easy because you have all the pieces and don’t have to imagine,” she said.

While she has limited experience with building, Isabel said her brother has several years of experience, which allowed him to build a walking gumball machine from scratch last year.

Understanding their limitations is important to picking feasible but challenging projects, Jeanne said.

“They only have so much time to get it done,” he said. “They’re only capable sewing for about three hours and after that the attention span is gone,” she said.

One of the biggest factors is helping without doing the project for them, Jeanne said.

“You’re supposed to do the project, otherwise you’re not learning,” she said. “I help when we’re doing the recipes or figuring out what they’re sewing. They have to do it when they compete.”

Even while preparing for the county fair, Isabel is already looking ahead to the next step in the fall.

“I might be going to the state fair this year, which is the ultimate competition,” she said. “I hope to get a purple ribbon at the state fair, the highest rank you can get without getting grand champion or reserve grand champion.”

Last modified July 18, 2019

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