Focused on fair time
ELKHORN — The Walworth County Fair, held over Labor Day weekend, is the culminating event for area 4-H clubs.
This year and next are extra special for one club. The Linn 4-H Club was the first to form in Wisconsin and is one of the few early clubs still in existence and thriving. Both the club and the state will celebrate the 100th anniversary of 4-H in Wisconsin next year.
(Read all of Walworth County Sunday's stories HERE. )
The success of 4-H, and of the Linn 4-H Club in particular, depends on a healthy membership and the involvement of previous generations. Visitors to the fair will see that in evidence at the 4-H Junior Activity barn, where members of one generation may act as fair superintendents, others as leaders of projects and clubs and still others as current members. There is plenty of opportunity to get involved.
In some cases, the fair has surreptitiously ensured a younger generation of participants. Lisa Lasch, co-leader of the Linn club, and her husband, Mike, have four children, all of whom have participated in the fair.
“We met at the county fair — in the animal barn,” Lisa Lasch said.
Mike Lasch's grandfather, Clifford Snudden, and great-uncle were the first to show beef cattle at the fair. The Lasches' 16-year-old son, Sam, continues the family tradition of showing at the fair. Sam Lasch also is one of the junior members of the 100th anniversary celebration committee.
Donna and Dan Kundert also are co-leaders of Linn 4-H Club. Dan Kundert handles much of the record keeping and publication of the newsletter.
The Kunderts' daughters, Deanna Quast and Ashley Van Schyndel, grew up in 4-H and are now leaders in the club.
Quast is the Cloverbud leader and works with the horseless horse project.
Van Schyndel is the activity leader and works with the arts and crafts and cat project. Her husband helps with the poultry project.
The Kunderts' son, Michael, who is married to Rachael, helps with the dairy project.
The fair is one thing that draws the generations of Kunderts together. Horses are another.
Donna Kundert organizes the Linn Youth Benefit Open Horse Show, held inside the horse arena on Sunday during fair week. This will be the 37th year for the show, which began during Ernie and Becky Merwin's tenure as general leaders of the club. True to the generational effects of 4-H involvement, the eight years from 1989 to 1997 were not the only years Merwins were involved — George and Gladys Merwin headed up the club from 1951 to 1964.
“We're the only club that has an open show during the fair,” Kundert said. “It's our main fundraiser and pretty much everybody is involved. The money raised from the horse show goes back to the club, and will help us celebrate our 100th anniversary next year.”
This year at the fair, the club will be gathering memorabilia from the club's history and trying to locate alumni. In addition, they will be raising money for the 100th anniversary celebration from the horse show and by selling 4-H bracelets.
The committee includes the four co-leaders: Dan and Donna Kundert, Sandi Pillman and Lisa Lasch. Student members include Bonnie Cornue, Taylor Radpke, Chris Jones, Becka Camps and Sam Lasch.
“We have a good core of people leading this club,” Lisa Lasch said. “I have to really give the Kunderts and the Pillmans a lot of credit because they're so committed to this club even though their kids are out of it and their grandchildren aren't old enough yet.”
Sandi Pillman's three sons all participated in the fair. Her husband, Cully, works with youth in the shooting sports.
“I expect that when my grandchildren are old enough to participate, the boys will get more involved again,” Pillman said.
Pillman is the senior leaders president for Walworth County.
“The 4-H program is awesome for kids,” she said. “It gives them opportunities in all different areas. It's so much more than the animal projects. And the kids really look forward to the fair.”
Lasch agreed. She said the projects that youngsters take to the Walworth County Fair are an important part of their summers.
“It's nice for kids to have a focus and the projects mean they have to perceive what they're going to do, then they have to stand behind their project as it's evaluated,” Lasch said. “It teaches them perseverance, focus and it challenges them to do self-evaluation.”
4-H roots run deep
The Linn 4-H Club has 32 families with 63 members and six Cloverbuds, which are the entry-level members, usually 8- or 9-year-olds. There are several families that can trace their history in the club, Kundert said.
“The Yorks, they go way back, and now Jan and Glen have their grandkids in the club,” she said. “The Lasches are an old family, too.”
The York and Lasch names are among the list of charter members or early members of the club. There were Yorks as general leaders from 1964 to 1969 and again from 1997 to 2000.
The original founder of the club, May Hatch, also had several generations involved in the club.
As the 100th anniversary approaches, club leaders already have projects in mind to help mark the milestone.
“There are four projects we would love to do,” Kundert said. “We want to have an old-fashioned ice cream social, we want to spruce up the historical marker area with some new plantings, the kids want to do a time capsule, we want to put ... signs up in the horse arena and we want to have enough money to have a float in the parades.”
The historical marker that commemorates Linn as the first 4-H club in Wisconsin is located on Wisconsin Highway 120, about two miles south of Lake Geneva. The plan is to hold the ice cream social at the marker site. The time capsule would be located there as well.
“We want to do some permanent landscaping at the marker,” Pillman said. “We've got an old horse wagon we'll put there as part of the landscaping.
“And we'd like to sponsor some benches at the fairgrounds.”
The signs for the horse arena are meant to help spectators appreciate the shows held there. Kundert said that spectators at horse shows may have difficulty figuring out what is happening.
“To them, they see a judge in the middle and the horses going around,” she said.
The idea is to put up signs that explain the different classes and how they are judged.
“It was Rick Welsh's idea,” Kundert said. “He always wanted us to do something to give people the info they needed.”
Welsh was instrumental in forming the Dances with Horses Drill Team Competition, an event that combines a drill team executing choreographed moves while riding their horses to the sound of music. The competition is held at 11 a.m. Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 2, in the outside paddock area near the horse arena.
After Welsh's untimely passing earlier this year, the event is now called the Rick Welch Memorial Drill Team Competition.