Linda Degner, a life-long resident of the area and Shell Lake Graduate, recently won the Wisconsin Association of Fairs District 2, “Every Person Has a Fair Story” contest earlier this month with a funny story about the Washburn County Fair and her heifer named, Smiley.  Her submission was chosen out of all the entries in northwest Wisconsin, one of only four districts in the state.

Linda was a third generation 4-Her growing up on a dairy farm. 4-H offered her a platform that became the foundation for much of what she has been able to accomplish today. "My mother played an enormous role in not only my 4-H years but my three sisters as well," Linda said. 4-H stands for Head, Hands, Heart, and health which through the 4-H pledge is committed to making the world a better place. After all the motto is," To Make the Best Better." Mom always was a stickler for us to do our best and with that came a great work ethic." Linda continued. Something that she says has helped her along the way and that she is grateful for. 

Today Linda and her husband Steve own and operate Bashaw Valley Farm, Greenhouse, and Storage. The projects (Dairy, Field Crops, Flowers and House Plants, Home Grounds Landscaping, Foods and Nutrition) that she took while in 4-H were some of the building blocks that have helped shape their business today.  One of her least favorite aspects of 4-H was record keeping, and yet that too has helped immensely while running their own business for almost 30 years. "I still have my record books and have to laugh when I look at the placings I received at the fair. Based on my ribbons I did poorly in the Flowers and House Plant project," Linda said smiling. Today the greenhouse is a big part of what she does. 

Although she is no longer involved in the 4-H program, she does spend many hours volunteering with the Washburn County Fair Association and is co-superintendent for the Flowers and House Plant department.  Both the fair and 4-H have been a big influence on Linda's life, and she would highly recommend and encourage others to become involved. For information about the 4-H program in Washburn County, please contact the Washburn County Extension Office (715) 635-4444 or Washburn County Fair at (715)635-8764 to reach the fair secretary, Kiersten. 

This short story is a memory from 1971 before the fairgrounds had a chain link fence.

Freedom Run

Smiley was the first heifer calf that I showed at the Washburn County Fair. She was completely white except for a few black spots. Teaching her to lead, with my homemade rope halter, was easy. She enjoyed our daily training sessions because she knew there was a scoop of grain waiting for her when we returned to the barn.

Entry day, dad hoisted the side boards up onto our old green pickup truck, and we loaded Smiley, her food, and grooming supplies. At the fairgrounds, she romped happily down the loading ramp only to stop abruptly before crossing the threshold of the Dairy/Beef barn.  Dad showed me how to properly tether an animal at the fair for its' safety. The sights and smells of our new location had completely consumed my attention, and I felt like Templeton in Charlotte's Web. I too needed to explore this new place.   

City water did not agree with Smiley, so dad returned home to get our well water leaving me in charge of my heifer. She appeared restless, and I thought a walk would calm her. She was more than I could handle, so I put her back in her stall and tied her off with a slip knot. I was bound to do it right in case she got into trouble. I dished out a little extra grain for good measure and off I went. 

I was gone for just two minutes, okay, maybe ten. I visited the carnival and found some ice cream. When I returned to the barn, Smiley was missing. My heart stopped beating as I looked around. Outside the big east door, I caught a glimpse of my heifer kicking up her heels as she headed straight for the DNR Fish Hatchery. Tears welled up in fear as I watched an older 4-Her grab the end of her halter rope pulling her up short just before she reached the rearing ponds. I was embarrassed and grateful all at the same time as I thanked him. 

Even without cell phones news traveled fast and my mother who was working in another building was on the scene before Smiley was returned to her stall.

In spite of her freedom run, Smiley and I had a great fair, and she was awarded a white ribbon. The judge noted that she might have spent a little too much time at the grain pan. 

Diane Dryden is a featured writer for Email:

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