DARKE COUNTY — One local family can boast of four generations of 4-H cattle women.
It all started with Mary Valentine of Gettysburg. Born in 1930, she started out showing Guernseys.
“An elevator owner urged my dad to get us interested in Guernseys,” Valentine recalled. “I got showmanship my last year in 4-H in 1949. I showed against Lois Graham. Our parents were farmers.”
Now, Valentine has seen her children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren get involved with 4-H cattle.
“I was a freshman when I started,” she said. “They only had a dairy club then.”
According to her, the big thing then was state fair.
“We took the Darke County Children’s Home boys into our club,” said the former Mary Lavy. “There were four of us kids and three went to the fair.”
She said sister Evelyn Kemper and brother Ray Lavy competed just as she did while their sister, Della Burch, did not.
“We all showed Guernseys,” she said. “I just liked showing cattle. At the county fair, we got to take our cattle through the parade. It used to be a lot bigger.”
Valentine’s two daughters, Cindy Black and Linda Rhoades, were also exhibitors.
“The first year I went to 4-H, I was pretty green,” said Black. “At the fair, I groomed animals. I sanded down the hoofs and lacquered them up shiny. I always had a great time. The hardest part was breaking them in the spring.”
In 1968, she showed the grand champion as a senior and was beef queen the same year.
“We bought a Hereford steer from Carolyn Blocher Cox,” Black said. “I would always walk by the trophies sand drool. I was ecstatic. It was a great 10 years. We always had Herefords which were always short and fat. Today they are long-legged. Our highlight of the summer was to go to the fair when we were in the old barn. The aisles were short but close, so when we brought the steer in we had to jump to one side.”
She remember in the late 1960s, when they took the farm dump truck and would haul cattle to the fair, put old army cots in there.
“The guys got to stay at the fair, but we had to come home,” she said. “Our 4-H meetings were conducted in the basement of Second National Bank.”
Black reported that she sold her grand champion steer for $900, while Miami County was getting $1,500.
Her fondest memory of the fair is that it is so family-oriented.
“Sunday we would bring food,” she said. “It was a close-knit, family-type thing.”
She is married to Larry Black and living north of Hagerstown, Indiana. She has two children, Jana and Jason, as well as five grandchildren with one on the way.
Her daughter was in 4-H but did not show cattle.
“We come back for the fair every year,” Black said. “We go for a day, usually for the concert and reunion time. I get to see my high school classmates. I graduated in 1968 from Gettysburg.”
Her highlight of the fair, she said, is the smell of animals, especially the cattle.
Sister Linda, a 1969 Gettysburg High School graduate, is the only one in the bunch who met her husband at the Great Darke County Fair. He is Darke County Commissioner Mike Rhoades.
“I knew him in school but didn’t really get to know him until the fair,” she said. “He showed pigs and I showed beef cattle.”
They got married in 1972, and subsequently bought steers to show.
Linda’s favorite memory is going to the fair to ride the rides, one or two, she said, and seeing all her friends from school.
The Rhoadeses have two daughters, Jenny Crandall and Jill Gehret.
Daughter Jenny, a 1992 Greenville High School graduate, has steers at their residence. She is married to Tom Crandall and is the mother of Katie and Kelsey.
Jenny, who was on the Darke County Fair Queen Court in 1992, said she married a city boy, who has become obsessive/compulsive with the cattle.
A member of the Darke County Beef Club, she said they started out with all different breeds.
“The Simmental are very tall and big-boned, 1500 to 1600 pounds,” she said. “It taught me a lot of hard work and values for work.”
She only competed at the Darke County Fair.
“I didn’t win, but it didn’t bother me,” she said.
“I started showing at Grandma and Grandpa’s,” said Katie. “I showed for 11 years. The first five years we had to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s. I remember one time getting drug through the gravel. Dad said I’d never show cattle.”
Was he ever wrong!
Katie was named the 2010 Cattleman’s Association and Darke County Beef Club queens. She served two terms on the junior fair board and was co-secretary and secretary two different times.
She has enjoyed all the friendships she made in 4-H.
“I still talk to all of them. too” she said. “I was a 4-H camp counselor for one year and president of the beef club for four years and is showed the reserve grand champion in 2010.”
Katie remembers the water fights at the fair.
“We were horrible to each other,” she said.
Sister Kelsey is 18 and a senior at Greenville Senior High. She has been in 4-H for 10 years. She was the beef club princess for two years, served on the junior fair board and was beef club president last year.
Kelsey also win showman of showmen twice. She earned fourth overall in 2010, reserve both 2012 and 2o013 and third in 2014 and this year showed the grand champion.
Kelsey likes how the family is so involved.
“We do it altogether,” she said.
Both Jenny and Jill were 4-H camp counselors and members of the junior fair board. Both were also beef queens; Jenny in 1991 and Jill in 1995.
“We were in the old beef barn and it was so narrow,” Jenny said.
“I am so thankful for all the friendships and experiences,” she said. “There are so many. Now I love being with the kids. It’s not about winning but friends you make and the people you see. I don’t really go out to the fair until Thursday or Friday. We’re so busy that we don’t past the Coliseum until then. I go one for one meal.”
“I don’t go home until Thursday night,” said Jill, who remembers getting first in her class one year. “It was awesome’”
A 1995 graduate of Greenville Senior High, Jill said her 4-H friends were closer than her school class.
“I got to be an 11-year member and was named Outstanding 4-H Girl in 1995,” Jill remembered. “I was totally surprised; they kept it a secret.Jim DeWeese.”
Married to Gary Gehret, she is the mother of three children, Isaac, 16, Ian, turns 14 today, and Paige, 7. Paige, a third-grader at Versailles, showed for the first time in open class this year at the encouragement of Aunt Jenny, making her the fourth generation to take part in 4-H cattle activity.
Now Jenny and Jill’s families go to the winter shows in such places as Lima, Springfield and Warren County.
Jill is starting her second year as 4-H adviser, while her sister Jenny has 24 years in it.
They camp together and eat meals together.
“Mom and dad do all of the laundry; God love them,” Jill said.
These females in the family not only worked with the cattle. Mary served as a beautician, Linda works in the office and is bookkeeper at C.F. Poeppelman, Cindy is a retired school teacher; Jenny works for as a dental hygienist for Dr. Leland and Jill works as a veterinary technician in Maria Stein. Katie is in college, Katie is a freshman in high school and Paige is a third-grader.