|Fair week: Why memories last a lifetime|
|Written by Todd Mishler|
|Thursday, 25 August 2011 15:30|
Patrick Larkin poses with one of the pigs he raised as a teenager in the Linn 4-H Club. Today, right, Larkin is a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy and stationed in Hawaii, but he plans to return for the meat animal sale at this year’s Walworth County Fair. Photo submitted
( Read the story in the Aug. 28, 2008 e-edition HERE. )
ELKHORN — Patrick Larkin has an ulterior motive for attending the meat animal sale Friday at the Walworth County Fair — he loves bacon.
However, the Lake Geneva native isn’t coming all the way from his current deployment in Hawaii to enjoy his favorite slice of pork.
Larkin experienced the highs and lows of raising and selling animals for market during his years as a member of the Linn 4-H Club — the oldest in the state — and he wants to help another youngster reap the same financial benefits when he attends the 162nd rendition at the fairgrounds in Elkhorn with the idea of bidding on and buying a pig.
“Auction day at the fair is as big of a deal as judging day,” said Larkin, lieutenant commander of the Navy’s Destroyer Squadron 31, who also has served two stints in the Persian Gulf. “The kids and families put a lot of resources into raising an animal. Selling the animal is where we get the money back and maybe make a little bit, too.
“I was fortunate and had great support when selling my animals and made money each year on top of covering my expenses,” added Larkin, 34. “This is not so for all the kids. I’m at a point in my life where I have the resources to buy a whole pig, and it’s my turn to support the new generation as I received so much support back in the day.”
Larkin also will participate in Wednesday morning’s opening ceremonies and hopes to take his nephews to the tractor pull.
4-H builds fair tradition
Larkin’s parents, Larry and Susan, always attended the fair. It wasn’t until their son joined 4-H at age 8 that the annual celebration leading to Labor Day really grew on their son and the family.
“For my eighth birthday, my parents gave me a puppy,” Larkin said. “A neighbor friend that was very involved in 4-H and the dog program suggested to my mother that I show my new dog in the fair. I enrolled in 4-H and showed my dog for two years.”
Larkin eventually added rocket building — with his father’s help and guidance — to his repertoire, but his passion turned to the animals, in particular sheep and pigs.
“My friend had raised sheep, and looking at the pictures of her shepherding, I thought that might be a fun challenge,” he said. “So the following year we combined resources and raised sheep together on the same farm.
“During the showing of the animals and caring for them at the fair, the majority of my 4-H friends showed pigs, and there was generally just more action in the hog barn. So the following year and for the next five years, I raised sheep and pigs, and for my final year I just raised pigs.”
Susan Larkin said her son quickly learned the toughest of lessons concerning animals and the fair.
“I don’t remember their names, but Patrick’s first two animals were sheep, baby lambs that became more like pets,” she said. “The sale is on Friday, but the animals remain in their pens over the weekend until the packing houses come. I went over there around 4 p.m. that Sunday and he runs up to me with his head down and gives me a big hug. He had gone on one of the rides and come back to find them gone. He never named them again after that.”
But in the process, Larkin also learned all about the business side of things.
“I observed that my profit margin on pigs was much higher than on sheep,” Larkin said. “Sheep are sensitive, high-maintenance animals ...
“Pigs, on the other hand, are indestructible animals. They rarely get sick, or at least mine never did, can eat anything and are fun to observe,” he said. “I often let my pigs out of their pen and would lead them to an open field where they could enjoy some space and root around. It was most fun to watch them root up the ground and they really loved it when I would spray them down with a water hose.”
Despite the long hours and hard work, Larkin said he enjoyed the competition and camaraderie.
“We helped each other clean pens, wash our animals and feed each other’s animals, too. Parents were out there helping everybody as well,” Larkin recalled. “I can’t think of anything else where contenders actually help opponents to look good in front of the animal judge. Then, we felt good for an opponent’s success if they received a blue ribbon.
“On judging day, a whole summer’s worth of effort comes to a head and it is just electric.”
Larkin said his triumphs and failures, especially related to his times at the fair, helped prepare him for a military career.
“There were periods of tough love where an adult, other than my parents, told me to get my rear in gear and clean an animal pen or pay attention to the course I was steering when sailing or meet my deadlines with Scout projects,” Larkin said. “I started to develop a mental toughness and satisfaction in developing a skill. These life lessons learned at a young age and following through on what I started have served me well in the military.”
He has served for 11 years, has moved eight times, lived in seven states and one foreign country and logged more than 800 days at sea.
However, Larkin said it was a blessing to have been raised in the city along Geneva Lake while having the chance to work on a farm and enjoy country life. And regardless of what he was doing, he said there’s no way he could have learned everything on his own.
“I had a heck of a lot of opportunities as a kid growing up in Lake Geneva,” Larkin said. “I was involved in sailing, Scouting, church and 4-H. As I reflect, what really made it special was how many adults took interest in what kids in the community were doing and would go out of their way to help them.”
Those adults believed that it truly does take a community to raise a child, he said.
“And I would say that the Walworth County Fair is unique in that it still connects with the community,” Larkin added. “Most counties or states have some type of fair or summer event. Living in all of these different places, I make it a point to visit these local venues. They all have the food, carnival rides and some form of evening entertainment.
“What they lack is the community competition where local people show off their antiques or chocolate chip cookie recipes, or they try to grow the largest sunflower and nurture it all summer long for the competition.”
He continued, “It is this community competition and showcase of local talent that really makes the Walworth County Fair special. Perhaps they receive a blue ribbon and maybe even a best of show. For those six days, anybody and everybody has a chance to showcase their talent for local glory. And that glory lasts forever. That $3 premium check for a blue ribbon is a nice perk as well.”
And don’t forget the bacon.