CROOKED LAKE — Steuben County’s 4-H’ers went through fair week, July 17-22, without setting foot on the Steuben County 4-H Fairgrounds, which has become even more picturesque after work was done on the lake’s shoreline to make the body of water more visible.

It was a difficult time for the 4-H’ers, who ultimately had a voice in determining whether to hold a fair this year.

When the Fair Board was trying to make a decision on what this year’s fair would look like, they reached out to the Junior Leaders for their thoughts.

The youth learned that an in-person fair would only include an animal show. You would bring your animals in on the day of the show then back home again at the end of the day.

There would be no water fights. There would be no hanging out with friends in the barns. No ice cream. None of the fun games that are 4-H Fair tradition.

It was a difficult decision, but one borne out of the many lessons learned through the 4-H program.

One youth said he couldn’t risk being at the fair then returning home knowing that if he picked up COVID-19, he could share it with his father, who was in a health care battle.

It was a difficult decision for the Fair Board, but one it stuck by, even though it was one that had detractors.

So a virtual fair it was, with projects judged by photographs and documentation submitted by the youth.

The Purdue Extension Steuben County staff still had to coordinate all of the judges, send out project packets to judges and try to make the experience as close to a real fair as possible. There was no queen contest. There was no auction. The event opened with videos and closed with videos.

Judges who worked the fair had mainly positive comments about the experience.

“The virtual judging experience was great given the circumstances. While it’s always nice to see the projects in person and speak with the children, the photos were high quality and easy to navigate through. I’m so proud of these kids for finishing when it would have been so easy to quit this year! It was also fun to see a different county that I likely wouldn’t be able to travel to on a typical year,” said the judge of multiple projects who shared comments with Tami Mosier, 4-H youth development Extension educator.

“It was a true honor to help judge these dedicated kids on their projects. You can see that even though they faced a challenge this year with no face-to-face interactions, they shined,” another judge said.

There even was a special t-shirt made up for this year’s seniors. It said:

“We were ready for that ice cream eatin’ water fightin’ hay bale sittin’ Steuben County 4-H Fair. Instead the world got #COVID19”

And that was that.

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