By JENNIFER MEIER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
ELKHART — The Miller family is mystified why they have been honored as one of two 4-H Families of the Year. They are also humbled that they were and give the credit to others who have touched their lives.
“This is big to us. It’s like getting grand champion.” said Michelle Miller after being awarded 4-H Family of the Year award. “We are really, truly honored — but it came as a big shock.”
In fact her husband Darin wanted to know what the criteria was for winning the award.
“I thought, ‘What did we do?’ There are so many families doing so much. There are so many families to choose from. It really is quite an honor.” Darin said.
The Millers were introduced to 4-H through long-time fair supporters Larry and Sue Struble.
The family joined the Elkhart County Beef Cattle Association and began volunteering at the fair’s rib-eye stand.
Both the Miller’s children, Derek, now 18 and Rachel, 15, began in 4-H Explorers during their first- and second-grade school years.
“The Struble’s really gave us a game plan for showing our steers,” Michelle said.
For many years, Derek and Rachel have been active participants in the lamb and beef clubs as well as in shooting sports.
For Rachel, part of the fun of the fair is the year-round work.
“I really like working with the animals and getting all the experience,” she said.
The days spent at the fair are Derek’s favorite time.
“I like being around the fair — helping everyone out and getting the animals ready,” he said.
Both have earned numerous awards. In Lamb Club Rachel earned Reserve Beginner Showman in 2010, Champion Natural Color Lamb in 2009 and 2010 and won her class for black-faced cross in 2012. In Beef Club she earned third overall at the St. Joseph open show and Champion Chi Heifer in 2011. In shooting sports she received Reserve Champion Archery and Reserve Champion Shotgun in 2007, Champion Rifle in 2008 and Champion Shotgun in 2009.
In 2006, Derek earned Champion Limousin steer. He was awarded Champion Rifle and Champion Archery in 2007; in 2008 he received Reserve Beginner Showman in Lamb Club as well as Champion Archery and Champion Rifle; and in 2009 he earned Reserve Champion Rifle and Reserve Junior Showman in Lamb Club.
“It’s a lot of hard work. They work with these animals for nine or 10 months,” Michelle said. “And they are working with them every day.”
Picking out just the right animal, caring for it and promoting it can be an intense undertaking she said.
“Sometimes they even have to go out and find buyers for the animals,” Michelle said. “They have to be responsible and committed. These animals rely on them. It’s a real start to finish process.”
But all that work is not without fun — especially during fair time.
“There’s some down time at the fair,” Derek said. “So you find ways to entertain yourself.”
One year he remembers showing a particularly docile steer.
“I decided to climb on and ride him around the barn,” he said. “I got a lot of weird looks and plenty of people took photos!”
Turns out the serene steer could be spooked.
“Someone slammed a car door and he kind of side-stepped and I slide off,” Derek said. “I figured that was enough.”
During fair week the Millers park their recreational vehicle on the fairgrounds and involve themselves with fair projects and friends.
“It’s a working family vacation,” Darin said. “But we look forward to it more than other vacations we may take during the year. We are with our fair family.”
The Miller’s said they’ve met people through the fair that have ended up becoming their close friends.
Working at the rib-eye stand and helping their children with their projects are not the Millers’ only contributions.
Darin has been on the advisory board for the 4-H Beef Club for the last four years and the family business, Millmark Enterprises Inc. is one of the fair’s corporate supporters.
“Our county fair is one of the best. It’s because the leaders and organizers are very good, the kids are fantastic, there is strong community support and great corporate support, too,” Darin said.
Millmark Enterprises, a steel fabrication company, has provided for many improvements at the fairgrounds over the years, including the picnic umbrellas, the advertising sign at the main entrance and the entrance sign for Gate 5.
Darin sees 4-H as not only benefiting the kids, but the community as well.
“These kids start something and work it through until they finish,” he said. “Through their interactions with the judges, the 4-H leaders and business leaders — whether it’s with animals or other projects — they are learning something that will move them on into a successful life. You can tell which kids have been involved in 4-H.”