Cleo shares memories of 4-H at county fair
News Report Staff
Every year at Effingham County Fair, Cleo McManaway is reminded of when he was a 4-H kid.
It comes during the family campouts on the fairgrounds. There are dozens of campers having fun together during the evenings of the fair.
“It’s a social gathering. What I like to see is the moms and dads and the kids spending the week together. It’s a social gathering. They’re having a good time,” said the longtime 4-H volunteer.
“When I was a kid, we didn’t have the parents camping out, but the 4-H kids would sleep at the fairgrounds. We might be under a canvas over a 2-ton truck bed. The girls weren’t allowed to stay overnight, though,” Cleo recalled.
The 67-year-old will be on the fairgrounds again during fair week, helping in different ways. After 33 years of volunteering, he now sees the kids of the 4-H competitors he helped inside or out of the show ring. He has been a mentor to 4-H competitors and offered a shoulder to cry on, too.
“You see the kids maturing. I’ve seen them when they didn’t seem big enough to handle the animals they were showing in the ring. Then I’ve seen 18-year-olds crying their eyes out because their steer was sold. 4-H turns kids into young adults,” Cleo said. “They pick up good work habits along the way, too. They learn if you don’t get your projects done, you’re not going to succeed.”
He might be grayer than some remember him, but just about every 4-H parent or grandparent knows Cleo. That can cause some awkward moments though.
“More people know me than I know them,” he said.
His role has evolved over the years. He has announced animal showings, directed them and even been a 4-H liaison to the Effingham County Fair queens, who get involved by handing out award ribbons to competitors. That last duty brings up a comical memory for Cleo.
“I had one fair queen who didn’t want to get into the show ring. I had some problems with her,” Cleo said diplomatically.
Any farmer involved with raising animals knows chaos can reign at any moment in a 4-H barn or a show ring. Animals can have a mind of their own at times. But Cleo remembers when 4-H nearly collided with the harness racing.
“One year, we had a cow get on the racetrack going one direction, while the horse race was going the other. It turned out all right. Yes, 4-H is where you build memories,” Cleo said with a wide smile.
LaVonda Joergens, a 4-H volunteer with more years at the fair than Cleo, recently offered a summary of McManaway’s main duty at the fairgrounds.
“She said I’m there for crowd control,” he said. That could include cattle control, too.
Both McManaway and his wife, Rhonda, were in 4-H when they were young. But that is not how they met.
“She bailed out of 4-H after one year. No, we met in grade school at Eberle. We’d swing together at recess,” Cleo recalled.”
So it was natural they would eventually swing into marriage.
They produced three children, all involved in 4-H. And now the McManaway clan has eight grandchildren.
Work took Cleo and his wife away from Effingham for a time. Then he came back to start a construction business when the country was facing a major economic recession decades ago. With hammer and nails, Cleo built a rewarding career that is slowing down a bit.
“I tell people I’m not retired. I’m just practicing. Anymore, all I have to decide is what time I’m going to work and if I’ll quit early,” he said.
A glance at an ugly long scar on his knee shows some of the costs of that career. He has faced surgery for knee replacement and repair to his shoulders. But when asked if this might be his last year as a 4-H helper, he makes it clear that is not an option.
“It seems every year now I’m asked how long I’ll do this. I tell them as long as the good Lord will keep me physically able I’ll do it,” Cleo said.
After all, he’s just having too much fun during county fair week.