Judgment days at Kane County Fair

ST. CHARLES — People were being so judgmental at the Kane County Fair on Wednesday morning and afternoon — and that wasn’t such a bad thing.

All told, about 650 people are taking part in 4-H and open-class competitions for animals and their owners during the week. Among those being evaluated Wednesday were Emma Stewart, 13 of St. Charles and the Fantastics 4-H Club — or rather, her black Java hen and three feather-footed buff cochin bantams were waiting to be graded.

A 4-H member for five years, Stewart said, “Raising chickens is fun. When they’re chicks, they are really, really cute. And watching them in the yard calms you down. They have interesting personalities.”

While Stewart competed in the poultry tent, decked in glitzy cowgirl clothes Chloe Daufenbach, 16, of Burlington and the A Bit More 4-H Club, was busy winning a championship with her friend Samantha Jensen’s pony Trixie in the western showmanship category.

Daufenbach also has three rabbits, another horse, a pair of pigeons, and a cow competing for ribbons and trophies during the week at the fair.

Sisters and moms Becky Rothecker of Hampshire and Sarah Yakle of Maple Park explained that they started the Y-Not 4-H Group in St. Charles in part to revive the equestrian events at the Kane County Fair, which had as many as 100 horses when they were youths. This year, about 50 horses and more than three dozen riders were taking part, they said.

“But the 4-H is not just about livestock,” Yakle said. “It’s about fun with friends and learning a lot of different things.”

Offering an example of that, Jennifer Haviland of Plato Center and the A Bit More 4-H said she had three sons competing in various events. Trying to recall all he had spread out on the family’s kitchen table, she said the eldest, Andrew, was taking part in no less than exhibits and/or competitions including woodworking, rocketry and first aid.

“And his coffee cake was grand champion, so he will be representing the county at the state fair,” Haviland said.

Proud of his grandson was Jim Feuerborn of Campton Hills, who, like his daughter, was a superintendent overseeing the horse and pony areas Wednesday.

“I’ve been involved with 4-H most of my life, since 1958, and still have my first project — a picnic napkin holder,” said Feuerborn, a retired educator. “And I’m involved with these events because I married a horse person.”

Another retiree at the Kane County Fair with lifelong ties to 4-H is Richard Crome of Charleston, who taught Spanish at Eastern Illinois University until three summers ago.

With former student Zachary Klunick of Springfield working as his assistant, Crome said he would be hitting eight county fairs and the state fair this summer, then an international event in Louisville, Ky., in the fall, with 60 sheep along for the open-class competitions in Kane County.

Crome has been winning awards since 1966, when his two rams took top honors at the International Livestock Exposition in Chicago at the long-closed International Amphitheater on the west side. He grew up on a farm in Albion and said he lives on a “toy” farm now, where he raises Hampshire, Oxford and Lincoln breeds of sheep.

As for how such events have changed over the decades Crome said, “The people are friendlier now and less heatedly competitive. And they are easier, with fewer people showing and fewer shows. That’s in part because of the costs involved, and the lack of opportunity to earn.”

As for the one of the main keys to raising championship ewes and rams, Crome said, “You’ve got to really like sheep.”

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