For 70 years, Owen Gross has been either participating in or attending the Allen County 4-H Fair livestock auction.
Monday’s auction marked the end of the seven-day fair along with a week of hard work and late nights for 82-year-old Gross.
After helping cook hundreds of pork burgers, lamb burgers and – for the first time – goat burgers for the hungry crowd, Gross rested a few minutes in the shade and then made his way into the show barn arena to track and record the sale of livestock.
While one 4-H concession remained open, the rest of the vendors had packed up the night before or earlier that morning and vacated the premises, and most of the fairground buildings at 2726 Carroll Road had already been cleared of projects and animals.
The crowd had narrowed to those selling animals and those buying animals, along with a few spectators.
Gross was a boy when he first joined 4-H in 1941 and entered a pig in the 1942 Allen County 4-H fair.
His family lived directly across from Carroll High School, near the current fairgrounds, which were built in 1989. Before that, the county fair was held at Memorial Coliseum.
Gross started a family tradition that continues to this day. His four daughters and two sons, as well as all his grandchildren have followed in his footsteps.
Late in the afternoon Gross was in the bleachers, tracking the swine sales, and patiently waiting for his youngest grandchild, Jace Gross, to auction his pig.
Gross is a 19-year member of the Fair Board, served 20 years as the fair groundskeeper and has been a 4-H leader in some capacity for 46 years, currently serving on the 4-H Swine Committee.
He retired from Northwest Allen County Schools in 2001, after 41 years as the head custodian at Huntertown Elementary School.
One change that Gross has noticed in the past decade is dwindling community support, although he was encouraged to see that trend appears to have reversed itself this year.
He attributes the increased participation to people realigning their priorities and listing family time at the top.
The fair is a family event and many of the activities are free, Gross pointed out.
There is an admission fee of $5, which Gross admitted incites “some grumbling every year,” but he shrugged off that concern and noted that in the 1960s he complained that it was too expensive to pay 50 cents to park at the Coliseum.
The fair board is in search of new and younger members, said Gross, who estimates the average board member’s age to be around 60.
“I consider that to be young,” he said with a grin, “but we need even younger members.”
When it’s not fair week, Gross doesn’t slow down.
The week before the fair, the longtime member of the Noble County Pork Association was busy cooking pork burgers for three different events going on in northeast Indiana.
The local fairgrounds are second to none in the state, Gross said.
“We have a very good layout and building arrangement, and I am really proud of our grounds,” Gross said.
At the opposite end of the show barn and the opposite end of the life scale, 9-year-old Madilyn Malcolm was wrapping up her first year in 4-H.
The precocious blond counted off her projects on her fingers: child development, wildlife, crafts, rabbits, goats, pigs and sheep. She received a champion in child development and had two champion pigs, she said proudly.
Meanwhile, her brother, Micah Malcolm, 12, waited his turn to sell one of his pigs – hoping he’ll get between $400 and $600
This pig is not going to the state fair or any more livestock shows, Micah explained, so it will be auctioned. He decided not to sell any of his rabbits, but earlier that morning did auction off one his goats for $275.
“I’m happy with that,” he said with a grin.
Both Malcolm children nodded in excitement when asked if they enjoy the 4-H activities at the county fair.
“I like working with the animals and doing projects and learning new things every year,” Micah said. “It’s really fun.”