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Carroll County's Miss 4-H Payton Steele, left, and Mr 4-H Liam Bates are heavily involved in the Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair, which officially begins Saturday at the Carroll County Agriculture Center.
Carroll County's Miss 4-H Payton Steele, left, and Mr 4-H Liam Bates are heavily involved in the Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair, which officially begins Saturday at the Carroll County Agriculture Center. (Ken Koons and Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

They’re the faces of the 2018 Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair. But there’s more to them than meets the eye.

Westminster High School students Liam Bates, 17, and Payton Steele, 16, were named Carroll County’s Mr. and Miss 4-H. It’s an honor they earned by submitting applications, giving a presentation about a leadership topic and going through an interview process.

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While it’s a privilege, it’s also added responsibility: In accepting their roles, the teens agreed to lead.

They’ve been leaders preparing for the fair, organizing volunteer help and guiding their fellow 4-H ambassadors to work together toward the common goal. They’re leaders during the fair, spearheading behind-the-scenes work to make sure it runs smoothly. And they will be leaders after the fair, breaking down the fairground, cleaning up and then arranging the various service projects in which the 4-H ambassadors participate.

Bates and Steele have taken on more and more responsibilities as they have grown with the 4-H program, said Becky Ridgeway, 4-H educator at University of Maryland Extension — Carroll County.

It’s almost time for the annual Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair. That means fair-goers and competitors will try new things —say, showing a Dairy Heifer— strive for excellence and have fun appreciating others hard work. 4-H ambassadors have prepared for the 2018 fair since last year's edition.

“I think over the years you’ve seen both of them step up in different ways,” Ridgeway said. “From being on the committees for their [4-H] clubs, whether it’s helping with building the float or helping design the banner for their club.”

They didn’t stop at participation. Be it on their committees or their ambassador program, they would always strive for more, taking on positions like officer, president and treasurer, Ridgeway explained.

In terms of their communication skills, Bates and Steele “have come an extremely far way from where they started,” Ridgeway said, “to being able to get up in front of a crowd of people to talk.”

Steele started in 4-H when she was 5. She’s returned each year and expanded her influence.

“In 4-H I have this platform that I don’t think I could find anywhere else, to really expand my horizons, meet new people and keep serving my community at the same time,” said Steele, president of the Deer Park 4-H Club.

She does metalworking, woodworking, baking, sewing, “you name it, if it’s in the Red Building (at the fair), I probably do it,” Steele told the Times.

Her favorite craft is restore, repair, refinish woodworking. That’s when you take an old piece of wooden furniture that’s in “pretty nasty shape,” sand it down, paint it or stain it and “refinish it into an entirely new piece,” she said. Steele did her first project when she was 8 — with a little help from her mom.

“We had found this rocking chair, it was about knee-high, it was my first year in 4-H” and one of her mother’s friends had a young daughter with leukemia, Steele said. “So we said, ‘We’re going to pick it up; we’re going to refinish it up for her.’ ”

Children and teens displayed their beloved canines at the annual 4-H & FFA Dog Show on Sunday, July 22. “The kids have been practicing for 12 weeks now, they’ve been coming every Tuesday night,” said Robin Korotki, director of the 4-H Dog Club and dog show co-superintendent.

They painted it orange, the color that represents leukemia awareness, and entered it in the fair. Steele won reserve grand champion.

Years later she’s still competing in the fair, though she’s scaled back how many events and categories she participates in because of her Miss 4-H workload.

“Payton is incredibly mature and responsible and organized for her age,” Ridgeway said. “She’s just 16 and she takes on the responsibilities of sending out a lot of the reminders, planning the agendas for the meetings.”

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Bates started competing at the fair when he was 12. He and a friend would carve walking sticks “on a whim” and keep them around the house, he said, until another friend told them they could enter them in the fair “so you could feel proud about your work.”

He gave up carving for a few years, Bates said, before picking his hobby back up and being lured into the 4-H ambassador program by a longtime friend. This past year was his first as an ambassador, and he was already named Mr. 4-H.

“I’ve always liked being behind the scenes, seeing how things work, how things are put together and how those make an event run smoothly,” Bates told the Times. “The ambassador team is a big part of the setup of the 4-H & FFA Fair. They run several of the events, the cake auction being the most important of them.”

For Bates, the fair is gratifying and testament to his and his colleagues’ hard work.

“It’s seeing the joy in everyone’s faces, seeing them happy and enjoying the event,” Bates said. “The other part that’s gratifying is knowing that your hard work paid off.”

Bates, a rising senior, is responsible and “he’s definitely our tech savvy individual that can help us out with those type of projects,” Ridgeway said. “[He] is more laid-back and goes with the flow, but definitely steps up in situations when needed.”

He and Steele will need their communication and leadership skills as the fair officially opens Saturday. But they’ll also be able to apply their skills as they look toward higher education and their careers.

Bates wants to be a mechanical engineer, though he also wants to study music in college. He applied and was accepted to the Carroll County Career and Technology Center, and is taking the applied mechanical engineering class. He made a hammer from scratch in class and plans to enter it in the fair.

His interest stems from watching “How it’s Made” on the Science Channel, Bates said. He and his twin brother, Riley, particularly enjoyed the watching builders bend metal with a lathe to make parts or instruments.

Steele, meanwhile, wants to be a doctor, “something with pediatrics or women’s health care,” she said.

But for now for Mr. and Miss 4-H it’s all about the fair, the sense of community and seeing through their hours of hard work.

“4-H is more than just agricultural,” Bates said. “There are so many more crafts and events that are not dealing with agriculture or livestock.”

“The fair is home to me; it is my favorite place in the entire planet,” Steele said. “I work all year coming up to this two-week stretch, and honestly I just love it.”

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