Bi-county exhibitors find success at Ozark Empire Fair
Livestock, art displays recognized at annual event
Exhibiting livestock or entering photos and paintings for show at the Ozark Empire Fair has become a tradition for many Barry and Lawrence County residents.
This year's 80th annual fair in Springfield, which opened on Thursday, again became a gathering place for these bi-county residents and many farm families, who showed their prizes last weekend.
Young people can begin showing livestock as early as age 5. This year, a new entry was Zoe Gurley, 5, the fifth generation of family Angus breeders and the great granddaughter of the late John and Cecelia Eck, longtime sponsors of the Monett Junior Livestock Show. The daughter of McAuley High School graduate Minnie Roberts and granddaughter of Linda Eck, former owner of the Pierce City Leader-Journal, Zoe took second place in her class with an Angus heifer in the open show, and third with a young bull a little closer to her size.
"Great-great grandma would be proud," said Zoe's great aunt, Mary Jo Washam, with the Hillside Angus Ranch in rural Pierce City, who has come to the fair for the past 44 years. "The fair gives us an opportunity to showcase our Angus genetics. We sell 15 of our best fall heifers online in the spring. Juniors often buy them, and we help them show. It's often repeat customers."
The Washams had cattle this year shown by customers from Lamar and Kansas.
The sophistication of the exhibitor may have little to do with how well an animal performs in the arena. Few exhibitors had more experience this summer than Rachel Callison, from the Fire Sweep Simmental Ranch in Verona. Callison earlier this summer competed at the National Simmental Show in Des Moines, Iowa, against 600 competitors and 1,000 head of cattle, the largest show of its kind. Callison took 12th overall in the nation, seventh in the cattlemen's quiz and fifth in livestock judging.
At the Ozark Empire Fair, she introduced a young heifer, Dew Drop, in the showmanship contest.
"It was her first time out," Callison said. "She has a very sweet temperament. "She'll do find down the road. She's not used to showing. She was tired, and she laid down in the middle of the ring. I had to have someone pull her tail while I pulled on her harness to get her up again."
Used to distant trips, Callison finds the Springfield show a relief.
"It's one of the biggest shows close to us," Callison said. "It's my favorite because I can go home and sleep in my own bed."
That close-to-home equation works well for Kelsie Grimm, 14, with the Fulp-Grimm Dairy Farm of Aurora. Showing for the third consecutive year in Springfield, she earned reserve grand champion honors for her five-year-old Brown Swiss.
"It's gotten more competitive over the years," Grimm said. "It's gotten funner. And it's not as long a drive."
"I enjoy watching them do it," said her dad, Jeff Grimm.
"It's more of a tradition for us," added mom Amanda Grimm.
Their son, Garrett Grimm, 10, had success showing his entry, Skype, for the first time as a cow, having shown her previously as a heifer. This year, he captured showmanship honors.
"I've been showing ever since I was little," Garrett said.
Kaitlin Kleiboeker, with Mineral Valley Farms near Stotts City, showed for her third year at the Ozark Empire Fair.
"I'll go to the State Fair to show this year," Kleiboeker said. "I get lots of experience here. It's helped me with showmanship. Watching others helps me learn."
Megan Thomas was one of two Purdy FFA members showing at the fair this year. Fellow chapter member Morgan Grissom will have her competition later in the week. Thomas, 17, has been showing in Springfield since she was 8.
"It's a bigger show," Thomas said. "It's a better opportunity to different things from other people."
Sometimes the attraction is even more basic.
For Callie Meek, with the Meek Cattle Company of Cassville, showing for the second year in Springfield brought her success. Her Charolais heifer won her division in the junior show and took reserve grand champion honors in the open show.
"I get to meet a lot of cool people," Meek said.
Stephanie Kaiser, with the Ka-Hen Farms in rural Monett, a Purdy High School graduate in 2012 and now a student at Missouri Southern State University, had the chance to pass down her experience to her nieces, Sophie and Kylin Wagner, of Sarcoxie, and her sister, Allie Kaiser, whose Guernsey took first in her class.
"This is my 15th year to show," Stephanie said. "I just show cows because I love it."
The rabbit show at this year's fair moved into a new home. The old exhibit hall, one of the oldest on the grounds, was removed and replaced with the Darr Ag Facility, named for International Dehydrated Foods founder Bill Darr. The new facility had more spacious accommodations, better ventilation and better lighting for the contestants.
For the past 15 years, Tony Crisamore, from Round Grove Farms in north Lawrence County, has exhibited at the fair. This year he brought 13 rabbits for his children to show.
Daughter Madison Wiseman, 17, showing for the fourth year, made her first appearance at the Ozark Empire Fair.
"It's a big show," Wiseman said. "There's a lot more pressure than the smaller shows. It's fun. My little sister, Tiffany, 8, got first place with her Holland Lop, Olaf. My little brother, Adam, 11, is also showing."
"This show means everything," said Madison's mother, Angela Crisamore. "The kids learn about rabbits, what they can handle and what they can't. They learn to work as a team to get all the rabbits in the barn. The kids love it. Every time they come to show, they see a rabbit they must have. That's not always good."
Gunnar Fisher, 12, of Aurora, was showing for his seventh year. Fisher is part of a dynasty of rabbit breeders, starting with his great grandfather, Gene Rowbotham of Rowbotham Rabbitry in ProTem, who has been showing rabbits for 50 years.
"I let the young rabbits go and have a good time showing them," said Fisher. "We travel a lot, to shows in Iowa, the State Fair in Sedalia, and Indianapolis. I like coming to Springfield where I can also race my miniature hot rod. I look forward to getting time with my rabbits and showing them."
Fisher had six whites and one Havana rabbit at the show. Most of the family's livestock, some 300 head of rabbits, are at the farm of Fisher's grandmother, Lisa Jennings, besides those kept by Fisher.
The grass competition offers a chance to see how well neighbors have done with their production. Wet weather kept Larry Long of Monett from getting his hay in on a timely manner for entering. Long concluded was the same problem past state champion Glenn Obermann of rural Monett had, since Obermann did not have anything in the top finishers.
In the Class 1 legumes, the glory division for local grass growers, Matt Cupps of Shell Knob took first place with his hay-clover mix, coming in with a food value of 213 prime, the top for this year's entries. The Dotson Brothers of Marionville took reserve honors with their entry, scoring 190. The Cupps Farms in Shell Knob also had the third place winner with a score of 163.
The fine arts and home arts shows at the fair provide many non-professionals with a chance to show their creations. In the fine arts show, Dorice Baty of Monett exhibited six paintings this year, including an impressionistic seaside landscape. Cara Clark of Monett showed a butterfly painting and Josh Bower of Pierce City offered a drawing.
Carol Kay of Monett won honorable mention for a dried flower arrangement. In the fresh flower show, Janine Konstanzer of Aurora won a blue ribbon for her Hibiscus suriacus and also turned eyes with her large orange daylily (Hemerocallis).
In the home arts exhibit, where most items are displayed too far away from the audience to be identified, Karla Kuklaw of Cassville won first place for a miniature wall hanging, second place for a quilt and third place for a creative textile. Vickie Clancy of Cassville won third place for one of her miniature wall hangings and also displayed a larger hanging. MaLinda King of Monett received a very visible display for her heritage quilt entry.
One of the more popular exhibits is the photography show, which includes more than a thousand entries. Kristin Nama of Pierce City entered five photos this year, including flowers and the picturesque approach to St. Mary's Catholic Church.
"I first entered photos in the fair in June 2003 with the idea of showing that some things still looked nice in Pierce City after the May 2003 tornado," Nama said. "I took each of the photos I entered this year in Pierce City. The fair provides a broad audience so people can see our town still have beauty to behold."
Lisa Murphy of Aurora, a regular contributor to the photo show, won first place for a country scene, second place for an unrestored city cab and third place for a black-and-white photo of the rear of a building with a fire escape. Other Monett exhibitors included MaLinda King, John Baty Jr., Cara Clark and Wendy Harvey.
Other bi-county residents found their own way to contribute to the fair. The Aurora FFA worked the Ozarks Beef House, the concession for the Southwest Missouri and Greene County Cattlemen's Associations on Saturday, preparing and serving food.
Main Street Feeds in Monett has a booth in the E*Plex, promoting its bag and bulk feed as well as toys and farm related household items. Clerk and recent Monett High School graduate Iris Wormington explained that the Ozark Empire Fair is one of several annual stops for the business, also exhibiting at Horse Fest, Farm Fest and the Spring Roundup.
Even the vendor hall had bi-county connections. Wendy Harvey of Monett offered products in the painfreepillow.com booth. Dish TV vendor Heath Hall, who started his business on Broadway in Monett in 1999, made his fourth appearance at the fair, representing the company and his Joplin store. Hall noted that distance often does not matter in finding a local connection. Last year he showed at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, and his first customer was from Mt. Vernon.
The Ozark Empire Fair runs through Saturday.