PARIS — The 4H lifestyle runs deep in Brooke Voelker’s roots.
Voelker, a 19-year-old Reed City graduate, has been surrounded by farm animals most of her life. And, it all started at a young age.
Voelker’s mother grew up on a dairy farm in Lakeview. Her older sister, Lauren, and twin brothers — Eric and Kyle — were all a part of 4H too. It’s a family tradition.
“My mom’s entire family took dairy cattle to the Mecosta County Fair each year,” Voelker said. “When my parents had kids, they got us immediately involved. I’ve been at the fair ever since I was born.”
“This would be my first fair I’ve ever missed,” she added.
Last month, in its 136-year history, the Mecosta County Free Fair was canceled due to ongoing concerns of the coronavirus.
A girl and her animals
At the age of 6, Voelker got started in 4H as a Cloverbud where she showed a single animal, the maximum allowed. Two years later, she took after her sister and began showing lambs.
Over the years, Voelker became very versatile in the animals she started to raise and show.
“When I was younger, I did more of the smaller animals,” Voelker explained. “As I got older, then I started showing beef cattle … along with the lambs.”
In total, Voelker has shown lambs, feeder steers, beef and dairy steers, pigs, and horses.
“I was that kid that was in the barn every single day,” she said.
And there’s no “horsing around” when she’s in the barn working.
“I was walking my steer, walking my pig, running my lambs — training them every single day,” she said. “With that amount of work you put into it, you definitely bond with them.”
Work, work, work — and more work
Voelker has been able to continuously build a strong work ethic throughout her lifetime. Part of that comes from being involved with 4H, the fair and other relatable experiences.
Last summer, she accepted a summer job at a horse farm.
“That was go, go, go,” she said. “You’re getting dirty, you’re working with horse poop … your animals have to be fed.”
The work, she said, was very similar to what was expected on her family farm. That includes feeding the animals every day, twice a day.
“It has definitely helped me note the value of hard work,” Voelker said. “At the fair, you have a goal. … In the end, you see all your hard work pay off when you walk in the show ring — it all pays off.”
Being a part of 4H and the Mecosta County Fair didn’t just help Voelker build work ethic and character. It also helped her build friendships.
Lots of them.
“I met some of my best friends through 4H,” a tearful Voelker shared. ” … It’s very special. You have your own group of people and support group through 4H. There’s just so much positivity and uplifting that I don’t think you’d see anywhere else in any other organization.”
A true showman
Every year was considered a great year, but 2018 was a big year for Voelker when it comes to personal accomplishments.
That year she was able to proudly raise one trophy over her head.
“I won Grand Champion Sweepstakes,” she recalled.
To be considered in the sweepstakes, Voelker said, a 4H’er must qualify first.
“You must win grand or reserve championship and showmanship to qualify,” she explained. “That year, I qualified with my horse and I qualified with my beef steer.”
In the next step, participants must show pigs, sheep, goats, chicken, horses, dairy, rabbits and beef.
“That’s a big challenge because you have to learn how to show all the animals within 3-4 days,” she said. “Thankfully I grew up showing a variety of animals.”
“That was really special and that’s a big goal end goal for any true showman,” she added of the victory.
To add to her trophy collection, she’s also won Grand and Reserve Champion with her horse, Sierra, as well as speed events. She’s claimed Reserve Champion Showman with pigs and dairy beef.
Since 2015 Voelker has also been a Horse Show Delegate for Mecosta County at the 4H State Horse Show in Lansing.
“I’m just sad that I didn’t get to show this year because it was my last year,” she said.
A fair that wassupposed to be
As a student at Michigan Student University, and working full time, Voelker planned to take her horse to the Mecosta County Fair this summer for one last time.
“When I was at college, and before coronavirus hit, I was coming home on the weekends to ride my horse,” she said. “Even when we (MSU) switched to online courses I was still riding them every day.”
“Sierra is my main horse. She can do everything,” she added.
Prior to the Mecosta County Fair board making its final decision to cancel the fair, Voelker said she was somewhat prepared for bad news. With horses, she explained, riders compete in point shows during the first two weekends in June.
“Those were cancelled earlier before they cancelled the fair,” she said. “That was really disappointing.”
Once a 4H’er, always a 4H’er
Although this was Voelker’s final year to show at Mecosta’s fair, she will be making future appearances.
“One of my other favorite highlights of the fair is helping the younger kids,” she said.
Over the years she’s helped put on showmanship clinics, answered questions, and was always willing to give advice to those in need.
It’s something Voelker says she has a passion for.
“I’m always in the barn and kids are always asking me questions,” she said. “I will be a leader in the future. My family will always be involved in the fair.”