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This column deserves at least a blue ribbon
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There are many truisms about living in rural America.

One, once you are on the Red Cross blood donor list, the agency will hound you every three months like Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula.


Two, once you give money to or donate items for a fundraiser (enter the fundraiser of your choice here), it takes death, or at least an act of Congress, to remove you from that organization’s calling tree.

“Remember, it takes a village, and your generous gift of cash or a nice basket of artisan toiletry products and scented candles, pleeeeeease.”

Third, once the person in the community who irritates you the most takes a liking to you (enter your personal pest here), they will go out of their way to strike up a conversation in every checkout line, eating establishment and public event, especially if you are in a hurry (if you weren’t in a hurry, once you see this person, you suddenly are).

“Hey, nice to see ya, but you know, I got this thing at this place at that time and just gotta go.”

Fourth, once you come to a stop sign and have to wait for three cars, you start cussing.

“@#$% rush hour traffic jam. I think I might as well move to Overland Park.”

And fifth, once a county’s extension council gets your name on a list of potential judges, it is a life sentence. Just in case you’ve been living is a sod dugout since Kansas statehood in fear of locust swarms and dust storms, and don’t know what this means, allow me to explain. 

These councils are responsible for the county 4-H and open class fair competitions. Harried extension agents scramble to find volunteers to judge a myriad of categories.

These judges judge everything from clothes to vegetables to crops to bunnies to kittens to bucket calves to macramé to Lego sculptures, etc. You get the idea. A lot of stuff.

Some may sound sort of silly, but behind each plump zucchini, cinnamon swirl bundt cake and squealing pig stands a proud, young 4-H  member. And, behind each proud, young 4-H member stand frazzled parents with cattle prods (not for the cattle, if you get my drift. Any parent who has helped any kid with any project knows what I mean).

“What do you mean you haven’t started yet? The fair starts this morning and it takes more than two hours to raise a cow!”

Nonetheless, kids show up at the designated hour (for the most part) with their projects in hand, eager to hear what the judge has to say. 

For the judge, this is sort of like walking through a mine field in an artillery barrage. You see, often, the child is accompanied by one or both of their frazzled parents who have been up since April and the weak, fair concession stand coffee IS NOT WORKING.

I judge photos, not a bad gig if you enjoy countless pictures of flowers, siblings, pets and summer vacations.

Anyway, it is the judge’s job to evaluate each kid’s entry while looking them in the eye and while under the glare of mom and/or dad. You rate the project by awarding one of four ribbons from white (nice try, keep up the good work) to purple (outstanding work). In between are red and blue ribbons.

The secret is to be as diplomatic as possible, no matter what. 

“You’ve got to be kidding, I mean, wow, I’ve never seen a photo of a toad quite like that. That is a toad, right? No? It’s a blue healer? Well, it is still a unique shot.”

Seriously, you see a lot of great work from kids of all ages and to see this young talent is pretty cool. And, they do put a lot of effort into their entries.

It is neat to see their big eyes filled with excitement and watch as they intently listen to any advice you give. This is really the case most of the time (occasionally, a well-caffeinated mom or dad have to drag their child to the judging table).

I will say that although I enjoy photography, I wonder what it would take to be on the list to judge pies and cookies? I can’t bake my way out of an Easy Bake Oven, but I have eaten a lot of pies and cookies and that should count for something.

UPDATE: Our deck is done. My youngest son and I finished it off on a recent Saturday. 

Surprise, surprise, it took longer than anticipated. As we put the deck boards on, we noticed that our joists were not as square as we thought.

I think the beams were straight but the wood warped. Anyway, that is my story and I’m sticking to it.

Dale Hogg is the managing editor of the Great Bend Tribune. He can be reached at