OWATONNA — As the fairgrounds buzzed with excitement and vendors focused on setting up for the inevitable large crowd, the Steele County Free Fair took a moment to recognize prominent players in the local agricultural community.
The Equine and Livestock halls of fame inducted two new members each prior to the official fair opening on Tuesday, including a show pony, a volunteer, a former agriculture teacher, and one posthumous honor. Steele County Soil and Water Conservation awards were also recognized, as well as the Farm Family of the Year.
“What you do makes a difference, and you decide what kind of difference you want to make,” said Pat McCarthy, the superintendent for the Equine Hall of Fame as he quoted conservationist Jane Goodall. “Henry Rypka has and continues to make a difference.”
McCarthy described Rypka — the first of the Equine Hall of Fame inductees — as a professional volunteer who is quick to ask what needs to be done, when things were needed, and what he could be doing to help. He was a 4-H Horse Show volunteer for 17 years, served on the 4-H Horse project development committee for 13 years, and helped build the SCFF horse ring announcing stand among many other notable achievements.
The Pony of America named Unforgettable was also inducted in the Equine Hall of Fame, having earned over 25 Grand and Reserve Champion Awards. With his handler Brynn Hable, Unforgettable has placed in the top 10 a total of 20 times at the State 4-H show in numerous events. McCarthy stated that Unforgettable is an athlete and that he’s “got game.”
Hable presented Unforgettable to the crowd during the induction ceremony and was overcome with emotions as she tried to thank her pony for all he has done with her. Hable will be retiring Unforgettable at the end of the 2019 show season.
“There is a picture of Brynn and Unforgettable that is titled ‘worth a thousand words,’” McCarthy said as Hable led Unforgettable out of the Show Arena. “It’s tough to get those words out today. It’s bittersweet.”
At the Livestock Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Ron Van Nurden was recognized for his 44-year carrer as a high school agriculture teacher and adult farm management instructor. Alongside him, Bob Chladek was inducted posthumously for his continuing gifts towards the Steele County area, including the gift of his farm in Owatonna to support the Owatonna High School FFA and 4-H. Chladek died in 1994.
Farm Family of the Year was awarded to Glenn Johnson and Deb McDermott-Johnson, owners of the Clover Glen Farms on the east side of Steele County. Clover Glen Farms is a dairy farm that also has 220 acres of crops that include alfalfa, haylage, corn silage, and dry hay. The Johnsons are well known for their Cow Camp, which is a hands-on experience for young people to learn about life on a dairy farm. The camp has been in operation for 12 years.