Francis and Harry Elliott were sitting on the bleachers in the show arena watching the 4-H dairy cattle show Wednesday morning.
Francis’ grandson, Zack Ellerman, was competing in several categories, including senior showman, which he won.
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While that was a highlight of the day, what came shortly after was a surprise to the Elliott brothers.
Jackson County Fair Board President John Schafstall handed the microphone to board member Jim Thompson, and he asked the brothers and their family members to come to the center of the show arena.
After telling a brief story about how he knew the brothers, Thompson presented each of them with a plaque recognizing the family’s 79 years of exhibiting at the fair.
Neither Francis nor Harry knew about the honor before, but their family members did.
“My daughter, she works in (the fair office), and she never said boo about it,” said Francis, 82.
The recognition meant a lot to the brothers.
“I didn’t realize it had been quite that long,” Francis said of the family’s longevity at the fair.
“That’s what I was thinking,” said Harry, 79.
The family’s connection to dairy cows started in 1932 when the brothers’ parents, Richard and Ethel Elliott, married and settled in Tampico.
Richard had Angus cattle at his family’s home growing up in Washington County, and Ethel’s family had dairy cows at their Tampico home.
“In 1941, they bought a milking machine,” Francis said. “We’ve used a milking machine ever since.”
At a young age, the brothers became involved with showing dairy cows at the Jackson County Fair and other area fairs.
“That was fun then,” Harry said.
“The social life or meeting people,” Francis said of what he liked about it. “There were some people from Franklin who came down here with sheep and Harrison and Washington counties with dairy cattle.”
Both brothers liked the showmanship portion of the events.
“When it came to showmanship and all of that, he did real good,” Francis said of Harry.
“It was just the skill of doing it, and you wanted to do it right,” Harry said. “It was something you liked to do. A lot of it came natural, but sometimes, it didn’t.”
The brothers also showed hogs and sheep as part of 4-H.
After their 4-H tenures ended, Francis and Harry continued to raise dairy cattle on their farm. Today, they still live on the same farmland where they were raised.
“I like the challenge of milking the cows, and you want to see if you can get the most milk out of them,” Francis said. “I like the idea of working with milk cows, the milk they give and keeping their udders strong and using the milking machine.”
The family tradition of dairy cows continued with Francis and his wife Lavonda’s three daughters and Harry and his wife Rita’s three sons.
Then it passed to their grandchildren.
“It gives you satisfaction that they did take interest in livestock and that they’ve got that knowledge that they can pass it down to their kids,” Francis said.
“I would naturally like for them to continue (with dairy cattle), but they’ve got a mind of their own,” Harry said of their grandchildren’s varied interests.
Ellerman said showing dairy cattle for the past 10 years has been a big commitment, but it’s well worth the time and energy put into it because he’s able to carry on the family’s tradition.
“I think the family deserved the award or honor for the 79 years that my family has put into the fair, and I hope to be an exhibitor for many years to come,” the 2018 Seymour High School graduate said. “I also think that they need to keep this going for other families that are longtime exhibitors.”
Nora Silence, one of Francis and Lavonda’s grandchildren, also was a 10-year 4-H’er.
“4-H has been a great platform for not only learning time management and responsibilities, but it also was able to give me opportunities in the dairy industry in Indiana than anywhere else,” she said.
For example, she and Ellerman both were a part of the 4-H Dairy Youth Academy, which is for any 4-H’er who wants to learn more about the industry.
“We traveled all the way from Canada to Wisconsin and Michigan to local farms in Indiana,” Silence said.
The involvement of her family’s farm in the county fair led to Silence going to Purdue University after graduating from Brownstown Central High School in 2013. In May, she earned a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences.
“I was also able to use my dairy background as president of Purdue’s Dairy Club,” she said. “This passion of mine has led to many doors to be opened.”
She now lives in Iowa and works for Cargill Protein.
“I learned from my family that hard work is key to being successful, and that is how I am with my current job,” Silence said.
She was happy to see her grandpa and great-uncle receive the recognition Wednesday.
“They have worked every day for the majority of their lives and still continue to do this work every day,” Silence said. “It’s great that they are getting recognized for their passion.”
Francis said he and his brother can still milk today, but they don’t do it as much as they used to.
All three of Francis’ daughters help milk the cattle on the farm when needed, and one of Harry’s sons does a lot of the farming. Grandchildren help, too.
That includes Ellerman.
“I help on the family farm, where we milk around 190 Holsteins and Jerseys,” he said. “I help with the milking and feeding chores along with other family members.”
Ellerman said he plans to attend Ivy Tech Community College in the fall and work toward obtaining an associate degree in agriculture. Then he said he would like to return to the farm or pursue a career off of the farm.
Francis and Harry are glad the family developed a tradition at the Jackson County Fair.
“In our younger years, we went to three or four county fairs in the surrounding area. It was just up and above the other counties,” he said of the Jackson County Fair.
Besides the good food throughout the day, Francis said what makes the fair so good is all of the volunteers who make it happen.
“They spend about all week here,” he said.
Harry said the fair having reasonably priced food and not charging for admission or parking make it stand out.
“When Dad was on the fair board, he always said, ‘Keep the fair free, and we’ll get the people in there, and they’ll spend their money, and then we’ll get our money when they come in and start spending it,’” he said.