There’s a whole lot of hustle and bustle at the Jackson County Fairgrounds in the days leading up to the fair.
People are driving around in Gators from building to building, checking to make sure everything is ready for vendors to move in for the week. Tractors and other big farm equipment come rolling in to be displayed near the Antique Building, and youngsters start bringing in their 4-H projects for judging.
Right in the thick of it all is 15-year-old Kaelen Eglen of Cortland.
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Eglen is a fixture at the fair as much as the animals, fried food, Ferris wheel and heat. This year, she will be sharing her fair experiences with the community through The Tribune’s fair diary, which will run daily in the paper through Aug. 1.
Since Monday, she has been working at the fairgrounds near Brownstown, painting signs and fences, sweeping out buildings and hanging up posters.
She has grown up at the fair, literally, from helping her dad and grandpa show pigs when she was little to taking care of and showing her own pigs now.
“It’s hands down my favorite time of the year,” she said. “It’s better than Christmas.”
She splits her time between the swine barn and show arena, the FFA building, where she takes shifts answering questions and talking about agriculture, and the 4-H building, setting up projects, assisting judges and handing out ribbons.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s so much fun,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.”
She likes getting to see people at the fair that she doesn’t see very much during the year, such as FFA members from other schools and 4-H members from other clubs.
Eglen has been in 4-H for the past seven years and is now a Junior Leader, a 4-H club that allows her to be involved in community events and assist in the 4-H building.
She’s also president of the Hamilton Hammerheads 4-H Club.
“I started in third grade,” she said of her involvement in 4-H. “I did 4-H mini before that.”
Her interest in being in 4-H comes from her family and her desire to show pigs, she said.
“My dad was in 4-H, so I always wanted to be in 4-H,” she said. “And also I wanted to show pigs, and to show pigs, you have to be in 4-H.”
The Eglens are known for raising award-winning pigs.
“My dad and my grandpa won grand champion at the Kentucky State Fair years ago and also at the Tennessee State Fair,” she said.
The family continues to show in Kentucky and may try the Indiana State Fair in the future.
Unless you show pigs, it’s difficult to understand how someone can enjoy it so much, Eglen said.
“It’s just the thrill of it,” she said. “I love whenever you’re first in the holding pen and you’re getting your pig ready. Your adrenaline starts rushing, and you get that thrill.”
This year, she’s vying for the title of 2016 pork princess.
Although she has been showing pigs for so long, Eglen said she can still get nervous before going into the show ring.
Besides swine, Eglen’s other 4-H projects include geology, forestry, child development and recycling.
“It sounds like a lot,” she said. “But you get so much out of it, and it gives you such a great feeling of accomplishment.”
As an incoming sophomore at Seymour High School, she will begin her second year in FFA and is serving as vice president.
“I’m hoping to get more kids involved and do more community events,” she said. “I have a whole page of goals for this year.”
Leadership is not a skill from which Eglen shies away and instead embraces.
“That’s the skill you want to have, to be a good leader,” she said. “You don’t want to be the person who doesn’t stand up for themselves. You can’t complain about what is happening in the world if you don’t do something about it, and that is what being a leader is.”
She also has learned how to be patient and has become more comfortable with public speaking and talking to people.
All of the skills and lessons she’s learning now will help her in the future as she plans to pursue a career in agriculture.
“I want to get into either ag economics or ag education,” she said.
Even with the nonstop schedule, Eglen still finds time to enjoy other aspects of the fair.
She tries to take her little sister, Kylie, to the midway for the rides once or twice during the week, and she wouldn’t dare miss the food at the St. John’s Lutheran Church at Sauers booth.
“It’s just good home-cooked food, the kind your mom or grandma makes,” she said. “If you haven’t tried it, you’re missing out.”
Eglen said people in Jackson County should be proud of the fair, as it draws many visitors from other communities each year.
“I’ve been to different counties, and our county fair is amazing,” she said. “I’m not saying it because I live here, but we all put a lot of hard work into this, and it shows. So much effort goes into making this fair what it is.”
Name: Kaelen Eglen
Family: Parents, Jon and Staci Eglen; younger sister, Kylie, 10, and Kinzie (deceased)
School: incoming sophomore at Seymour High School
Involved in: President of Hamilton Hammerheads 4-H Club, 4-H Junior Leaders, showing swine, vice president of SHS FFA, member of the SHS swim team, lifeguards and gives swim lessons at Shields Park Pool and volunteers at the Seymour Area Farmers Market and works in the Seymour Community Garden. She also is an active member of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Borchers.
Plans: To go to college to pursue a degree in agriculture economics or agriculture education