Junior fair sales bring out best in rural communities

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people standing with pig
Nayton Seymour stands with Sherri Singleton and Bob Williams after they bought his hog at the Monroe County Fair. (submitted photo)

Junior fairs can be competitive, with young exhibitors battling it out over whose animal takes home the ribbon for grand champion and reserve. But, they also have a way of bringing out the best in the communities they serve.

“I don’t know a good word to describe it. It was humbling,” said Sherri Singleton.

That’s how she described the Monroe County, Ohio junior livestock sale that raised more than $20,000 for a local cancer charity in memory of her late sister, Jane Williams, a longtime buyer at the fair.

Nayt Seymour, 17, a senior in high school, has been taking animals to the fair for the past five or six years, his mother, Jodie Kelley said. And Williams has been there to buy his projects every year.

Singleton was Nayton’s first grade teacher. She connected Williams and Nayton after Williams moved back to the area where she grew up and wanted to support local 4-H’ers at fair time.

“My sister did 4-H her whole life. She was the junior fair queen. She just always loved that program,” Singleton said.

Williams was diagnosed with cancer last October and died in May. Singleton and Williams’ husband still showed up to the livestock auction Aug. 26 to buy one of Nayton’s hogs. The second hog he was selling had a different purpose, though.

Jodie Kelley, Nayton’s mother, said they wanted to do something to honor Williams’ memory. They decided to donate proceeds from one of the hogs to the local Cancer Gas Cards program, a charity Williams’ obituary directed people to donate to. The program gives money for gas and food to local families traveling to go through cancer treatments.

“We were hoping maybe it would bring $1,000. That would be nice,” Kelley said.

One of the buyers at the fair heard about what Nayton planned to do with his hog. Kelley said he approached all the other buyers to see if they’d pitch in to buy the charity hog.

Nayton’s second hog sold for $92/pound. Weighing in at 240 pounds, it brought in just over $22,080 from the initial sale.

Kelley said people continued donating money on top of that, so the final number isn’t yet known.

“It was very overwhelming and emotional,” Singleton said. “I remember, I looked at my brother-in-law and said, ‘Is that auctioneer saying what I think he’s saying?’ Then the tears started.”

Lawrence County, Pennsylvania

 The Cosgroves world turned upside down when the family patriarch died two weeks before Pennsylvania’s Lawrence County Fair was set to begin. Rob Cosgrove died unexpectedly on July 30.

His son, Brian, had been preparing to show a steer and heifer at the fair. He told his 4-H leader and family friend, Ed Clark, that he still wanted to go through with it.

Brian was also about to start his senior year at Mohawk High School. He’s a skilled welder and had plans to go to welding school after graduation.

“Shortly after his dad passed away, we were talking. I asked him ‘What are you doing about welding school?’” Clark said. “And [Brian] said ‘I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to go. It’s awfully expensive.’”

Clark said that’s when he had a lightbulb moment. He reached out to friends, family and others in the community to collect money to buy Brian’s steer. They were going to help pay for welding school. It would be one less thing for the grieving family to worry about.

On the day of the auction, Aug. 21, Clark and his wife bid back and forth on Brian’s steer, running up the price until they hit the amount Clark had collected from all the donors.

man standing with cow on lead
Brian Cosgrove stands with his steer at the Lawrence County Fair, in Pennsylvania, just before entering the sale ring. (submitted photo)

Brian and his family were completely surprised. His mother, Stacy, and two sisters were in the stands watching, and one sister was watching on FaceTime from Philadelphia.

Then, auctioneer Duke Whiting took it a step further. Whiting explained to the audience why this one steer was bringing in such a high price and read off a list of all the people who donated to buy it. There were more than 75 people who pitched in.

Whiting then asked that anyone else who wanted to add money on top of the winning bid to hold up their card.

“It was like a sea of white,” Stacy Cosgrove said, of all the cards going up in the air.

Brian’s steer brought in $12.90/pound. Weighing in at 1,383 pounds, the final price was more than $17,000. That money will get him well over halfway to paying for trade school, Brain said.

“It was overwhelming,” he said.

“Amazing,” Stacy added. “And unexpected. We just had no idea.”

The meat was donated back to the family. Beatty’s Country Market donated the processing for the steer.

“It was the community coming behind him to make sure he knew that everyone there supported him,” Clark said.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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