At Johnson County Fair, reluctant farewells are common

After months of toiling in dusty barns and hot kitchens, 4-H members bid the Johnson County Fair a bittersweet goodbye Saturday as they sold off prized livestock and award-winning brownies.

Several yards away from the sale ring, Aubrey Hamilton tuned out the constant buzz of auctioneers.

Instead, the 11-year-old Spring Hill girl leaned against her brother’s steer, Shotgun, and gently rubbed his head to say goodbye before he took his turn in the auction ring.

“I didn’t know I’d get this attached to the calves,” she said, making a sad face.

Relishing the attention, Shotgun turned his head so Aubrey could rub his neck.

The fair sale — largely considered the unofficial closing ceremony of county fairs — is never easy, veteran fairgoers said. But it’s yet another lesson of life on the farm.

The sale provides a way for the 4-H members to earn money directly for their work.

“They work all year to get to this point,” said Johnson County Fair board president Shelly Harrison.

The members pay hundreds of dollars for feed, and that doesn’t include an animal’s purchase price, she said.

“Livestock projects are not cheap,” she said.

Dozens of business owners came out Saturday to pay top dollar for sheep, goats, beef cattle and more. Businesses often pay inflated prices to reward the students. During the sale, auctioneers make a point to say where students are going to college and what they’ll study. Last year a plate of cinnamon rolls brought $350, Harrison said.

Steve and Janis Davis, who own Davis Machine Tool Group in Olathe, spent a few thousand dollars Saturday at the sale. He’s repaying the favor after businesses paid top dollar for his children’s projects many years ago.

“It goes to good kids,” Steve Davis said. “We just try to help as many kids as we can.”

Back in the barns, many 4-H members like Aubrey were keenly aware that their animals were headed to market. But no one pretends it’s easy to say goodbye.

Aubrey’s father, Devin Hamilton, remembers that same feeling as a child. He cried his eyes out when his first entry sold.

“My dad took me and we walked around the fairgrounds,” he said.

The same story played out in several pens Saturday. Jennifer Wuelzer was stoic as she walked her goat, Brutus, around the sale ring. He brought $225 — money that she can use for college or livestock feed. But Wuelzer could barely hear the price. Tears formed in her eyes the minute she stepped outside the spotlight.

“I thought I was going to be fine,” the Olathe North senior said, wiping her eyes.

But it’s not the end of her livestock work, she said, pointing to another pen where her goat, Bliss, was resting. He will never be sold, she said firmly.

“That is my baby.”