Dairy princess keeps herself down on farm She doesn't 'weasel' out of her chores


TANEYTOWN -- Dust rises in the distance on the winding driveway that leads to the Jr-Lee Farm. Rocks fly as a Bronco roars over the path and shuts down near a barn at the end of the road.

A placard above the vehicle's grill heralds the arrival of "The Wicked Weasel."

Marie Speak, bestowed with her odd nickname by her father, John Speak Jr., has made quite a mark on the dairy industry in Maryland during her 17 years, the most recent instance being her selection as Carroll County Dairy Princess in June.

She didn't win the state competition Tuesday night in Frederick, but as usual, she fought hard for what she believed in.

Even when one of the judges told her she was promoting a stereotype of farmers by wearing overalls during a skit in which she portrayed a farmer looking for a lost cow, she didn't flinch.

She went on to do the skit in competition, she feels, better than she did it for the judging.

"He said I should have worn khaki shorts and a nice shirt instead," she said, laughing. "I don't wear a nice shirt to do farm work. Who does?"

Although she didn't win in the state competition, Marie is still one of the most remarkable promoters of dairy products since Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. started touting the values of milk a few years back.

And one less title for Marie does not dent her list of accomplishments. In her room, among the numerous pictures of her prize-winning cows and calves, hang ribbons and sashes from victories in other competitions.

She gave up her title of Maryland Swiss Miss, a representative of Brown Swiss cow farmers, last month, but she still holds quite a few offices in the dairy circle.

She is president of the Francis Scott Key High School chapter of the Future Farmers of America, as well as the chapter's Sweetheart; the secretary of the Taneytown 4-H Club; and vice president of the Carroll County Dairy Club. She is president of the Maryland Brown Swiss Junior Association. She aspires to be an officer in the state chapter of the FFA.

And there is always her position as dairy princess for the county. But little good her royal position does her on the Speak farm. At home, work is not relegated to peasants.

From 7:30 most mornings to as late as 10 some nights, Marie toils in the fields and in the barns -- sometimes in overalls. She'd have it no other way.

"There is no better place to live than a farm. I am given a lot of responsibility on the farm and I get respect for what I do," she said."This is the type work you either love or you hate. And I love it."

This point is evident in the amount of time she spends working.

To her, it's more than chores. She dropped basketball in high school because the after-school practice time cut into the evening chores. Even her friends take a back seat to the farm, at least during the week.

"Usually on the weekend you will see me going out with my friends," she said. "When I do bring my school friends to the farm, they say they like it, but when it's time to go, they are ready to leave."

As her friends probably realize when they visit, visitors are treated like family and farming is a family affair for the Speaks.

Although oldest daughter June, 22, lives in Sykesville and works in the computer science field, she is always on hand to support Marie and younger sister, Susie, 15, in competitions, said Marie.

Susie, nicknamed "Evil Knievel" by her dad, shows Jersey cows and operates farm machinery like a pro. Dual daredevil antics on the family's three-wheel ATV earned her and her sister their strange pet names.

Marie said she and Susie are taking after their father, a former 4-H'er.

"It's kind of like we are following in my father's steps because he used to show when he was little," Marie said. "He used the same barns and stalls we use at fairs and shows, so it's probably nice for him."

Aside from her love of cows and farming, Marie has a competitive side that is just as noticeable. She said she loves showing her animals, which include two Holsteins, two brown Swiss, two milking short-horns, and her steer, Steak, which she will sell at the 4-H Fair this week.

"I live for the shows. I don't know what else I would be doing if I weren't doing this," she said, creating an instant trough for the calves she was feeding by balancing the buckets against the pen with her knees. "The shows are a way to prove to myself that I really know what I am doing."

Marie also lives to learn -- about farming. She went to Denver last month as one of 12 students representing the Maryland Institute of Cooperative Education to learn about the business part of farming.

"I plan to be either a veterinary technician, or something in agricultural communications," she said. "I have looked into the programs at the University of Maryland College Park and Virginia Vo-Tech Institute, but I really don't know yet."

She constantly challenges herself to excel, she said, even to the point of her personal appearance.

"It's important to keep yourself healthy and fit," she said, throwing a "That's why dairy is so important. Milk helps your bones to stay strong."

Always the spokesman, she never seems to break or lose. And even when it does, she manages to keep her perspective.

"I also like to win, that feels good, but I don't do the things I do just to win," she said. "These accomplishments could help me later on. I even learn a lot when I lose. I just keep on trying."

And she should, because as sure as she knows that every sunup will be followed by the roaring of her jeep and the scattering of rocks on the driveway as she begins her day's work, she is certain of entering and winning other competitions.

I= The Wicked Weasel will ride again. She's certain of that.

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