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Ready for the fair

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Brannon makes adjustments before picking up his torch at the shop building at Bolivar High School. 

Bryce Brannon always liked fixing things.

As a kid, the incoming Bolivar High School senior tinkered with projects around the home until his father taught him to weld. He picked up a torch with the 4-H in eighth grade, even winning a regional welding competition with the organization in 2017.

Bolivar ag construction teacher Ashley Brown said Brannon’s skill as a welder is remarkable. 

“He’s one of the best shop students that we have,” she said. “This is his wheelhouse. This is where he excels — working with the metal and putting stuff together and thinking about how to pair it.”

When the Polk County Junior Livestock Show and Fair kicks off Monday, June 10, with 4-H craft judging, Brannon will be among those with entries vying for top marks. 

Following Monday’s judging, which runs from 5 to 7 p.m., the fair resumes Thursday, June 13, and continues through Saturday, June 15.

Sheep, dog, horse and dairy shows are Thursday evening, with poultry, goats and rabbits showing Friday, June 14. A rooster crowing contest and super farmer contest are also scheduled Friday. 

Saturday’s slate includes swine and beef shows, along with the pie contest, livestock auction and dinner. Kids games and a kids tractor pull are also scheduled.

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Bryce Brannon welds together a gate as part of a project for Ashley Brown’s class at Bolivar High School. 

Brannon said he plans to enter the crafting contest with his FFA chapter with a fence post driver he’s made. 

He’s planning to build a grill stand for a fire pit to enter with the 4-H.

“It’ll take me maybe a day or two,” he said. “It shouldn’t be complicated.”

Brannon’s style centers on useful items made creatively, Brown said.

“He’ll say, ‘Hey, I can use that scrap and turn it into this.’ He’s all about that,” she said.

Last year, the craftsman welded a solid a link of chain and added horseshoes to build a boot remover.

“Usually, I just try to find a purpose to fill when I get to make something,” Brannon said. “The easiest things to make are things that do something. I like more functional stuff than art.”

Brannon’s mother, Kim, concurred. 

“I tried to get him to do some yard ornaments,” she said. “He was like, ‘No, It doesn’t have a purpose, Mom.’”

Brannon won a Lincoln welder in the 2017 regional 4-H contest. He said he’s happy with a torch in his hand and had initially planned to pursue welding as a career before discovering another passion. 

“I’ve started getting more into mechanics,” he said. “I’m going to go work on construction equipment instead.”

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Garrett Samek leads one of his goats, Cinnamon, at the barn where his show animals are kept.

Sibling duo gears up

As the Polk County Youth Fair gets closer and closer, other 4-H Club members are also working around the clock to tie up all the loose strings before competing. 

Two 4-H veterans, Ellie and Garrett Samek, say they have been spending every free moment preparing for the fair next weekend. From crocheting to shooting sports to showing chickens, the Samek siblings do it all.

“You bring up your favorite chicken or the one you know most about for showmanship. Then, they ask you questions about what you know about your chicken, and they give out prizes,” Ellie, 11, said when describing a routine chicken show.

Ellie and Garrett show chickens, goats, pigs and cows. 

“I’ve been doing 4-H since I was 5, because that’s when you can join Clover Kids,” Garrett, 9, said. 

The Sameks are following in the footsteps of their mother, Sheila. 

“I was in 4-H when I was little,” she said. “It has great leadership opportunities. The kids get to learn about different animals and different projects. I wouldn’t know how to do crochet, so having leaders in those areas really helps.” 

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Ellie Samek shows the proper way to hold a chicken for showing. In this position, the chicken’s legs are locked and the wings are held down to prevent any unplanned flapping.

Three years ago, the Bolivar Herald-Free Press talked to Garrett and Ellie, when they were still young enough to be in Clover Kids. And as with any organization, things change over time. 

The biggest change for 4-H? The expansion of activities.

“We’ve gotten more things to choose from that you can do,” Garrett said. 

There’s more to 4-H competitions than just livestock. There’s a wide range of things to compete in, including welding, cake decorating, fishing, gardening and entomology.

“A lot of people think you have to have animals to participate (in 4-H), but it’s not that way at all,” Sheila said. “We’re trying to grow the club. It’s all about getting the word out.” 

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