By showing swine in this year’s Cass County 4-H Fair, 9-year-old cousins Hope Rush and Madelyn Hillis are continuing a tradition that their grandfather was a driving force behind.
Steve Rush was not just the 4-H leader of the Tipton Happy Harvesters but also worked the swine barn at the Indiana State Fair.
He was also there for those who wanted to start in 4-H but didn’t have the resources, said Lynn Korniak, Purdue Extension Educator for 4-H Youth.
“He helped a lot of kids get started, not just his own kids,” she said. “[He was] one of those people who have the biggest hearts.
The fair and the 4-H remain a family legacy for the Rush and Hillis families.
The girls’ older siblings have been showing since they were old enough to (third grade), while Hope's father Scott Rush has led the Tipton Happy Harvesters for the last two years.
He downplays his own part in the group.
“I’m still learning,” Rush said. “We’re just getting warmed up.”
His grandfather — Steve’s father — died when Steve and his brother were just 12 years old.
The community rallied around them and helped them through life, Scott said.
Steve saw 4-H as a way to return the favor.
“He said a few times [that] he tried to spend his life giving back the same way the community did for him. That was the big driver in his work. That’s why I say it’s big shoes to fill. He was very motivated,” said Scott.
Korniak said of Steve Rush, “His kids won awards almost all the time, but he wasn’t about the awards but about experience and life skill.”
Scott Rush said that by raising animals through 4-H, kids could learn a lot of life skills, especially responsibility.
“The main purpose is to raise good kids — good, well-rounded kids,” he said.
Now the grandchildren who weren’t old enough to show at the fair when Steve Rush was alive have an idea of the importance of his work.
“It’s not about winning,” said Cole Rush, 11, who’s in his second year of 4-H.
It’s about learning, he said.
Brody Hillis, 12, who’s in his third year showing, said continuing his grandfather’s legacy is important so people get to know 4-H and join when they’re older.
His sister Madelyn Hillis said that’s important, “So everyone can get a chance to do it.”
The purpose of 4-H is having fun and spending time with your animals, she added.
The Rush and Hillis families maintain their personal family feeling because they are neighbors, and the six cousins involved work together because they don’t raise livestock all year (the pigs were born around January).
“[We] help each other — it’s easier,” Madelyn said.
Denise Rush, Scott’s wife, said 4-H makes it easier connect with some of the girls on the Lewis Cass cross country team she coaches as part of her teaching duties.
About 10 of the 30 members are also in 4-H.
Chloe Crozier, 17, is one of the team members and was helping in the swine barn during Thursday’s showings, though she’s worked too much to show more than sheep this year.
“I think of 4-H as a big family. I’m here to help anybody that needs it,” Crozier said.
Scott Rush compared 4-H relationships to sports in the way friendships occur.
“You’ve got that group of friends, you’ve got your school group of friends and you’ve got your 4-H friends,” he said.
He sees his friends from his years in 4-H with their kids, so it’s also like a reunion.
“That’s exactly what it’s like — a family reunion,” said Leslie Martin, whose kids were winning in the swine but is looking forward to helping nieces and nephews as they get involved in 4-H.
Her daughter met a best friend the first year she showed, and they remain close, she said.
Although camaraderie remained high in the swine barn as well as the rest of the barns, swine entries are down this year by about 40 pigs, Korniak said.
Because of the heat the week before, some didn’t put on the weight they needed for the fair, she said.
Some people may be afraid of the African swine fever that is raging in China and don’t want to risk exposing breeding stock.
That would require isolating any possibly exposed animals for 30 days, “and not everybody has a place to do that,” she said.
Scott Rush said that part of it is also the number of 10-year 4-H’ers who’ve been leaving with the younger ones just starting.
“The numbers will pop up again next year. I think it’s just a changing of the guard,” he said.
Korniak said, “It does cycle through.”
Reach James D. Wolf Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-732-5117