Youth finds rewards in county fair

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LOVINGTON, N.M. – Children that grow up in a rural community are more likely to understand the value of hard work.

They may not always enjoy it – nor will they appreciate it – at the time, but the benefits of labor can be seen now and forever. No place is that more evident than the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, set for Friday, Aug. 2-Saturday, Aug. 10, at the Lea County Fairgrounds in Lovington.

The show barn and exhibit hall during the annual exposition is where the rewards come. Ribbons help add color and help brighten any day, and the show ring is the perfect place for that record-selling calf or lamb.

“I think our livestock shows are a great thing for developing young people, giving them responsibility and teaching them responsibility and how to take care of animals,” said Larry Wheeler, chairman of the Lea County Fair Board. “As they get older, they do more and more.

“It teaches them life lessons. It’s not only good for the kids, but it’s good for the families who are involved. They can do it as a family and work together. It’s a tremendous thing for kids.”

He should know. Like many in Lea County, Wheeler grew up in the show barn. He first entered it wearing diapers and hasn’t missed a year since. After being the third person in his family to serve as beef superintendent, he took on the biggest role of the entire volunteer organization.

But there’s still a great deal of pride for him with what happens inside that barn. He and many others have seen each child’s development, each child’s growth in what they do.

In a society where kids learn via the Internet and know how to program a phone before they get out of elementary school, the 4H and FFA projects offer something different to help get minds right. What many miss are the opportunities to learn that come through working with their hands and their minds together.

“Our junior livestock sale consistently runs second or third in the state as far as revenue for the kids,” said Dean Jackson, a Lea County commissioner and former fair board chairman. “We have some of the best facilities in all of New Mexico, if not all the Southwest.

“Lea County is a great place to live, a great place to work. We’re hard workers, and God has blessed us.”

It’s all built up from infancy to maturity, because that’s been the backbone to the successes that happen in southeast New Mexico. Many who volunteer today do so because they realize how important the fair and rodeo is to the community and, most importantly, the children.

“I think our 4H and FFA programs are more important than ever today,” Wheeler said. “Our society has gotten away from teaching our children responsibility like they did in the past. I still think it’s very important for kids to learn at a younger age. The 4H and FFA programs are great tools to teach them that.”


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