Twenty years ago, I was a high school kid. I showed cows at the fair. I participated in 4-H. I have fabulous memories of it all.
Those memories were made possible by people who worked to make those events happen. I'm talking about fair board members. 4-H leaders. People like Neil and Debbie Fearn.
My earliest memory of Neil Fearn is of him leaning on the tailgate of his truck on Monday morning of the Edwards County Fair, as the beef superintendent of the open show: "OK boys, let's get this rolling." Every year. For a lot of years. As in, he's been an Edwards County Fair Board member since I was two years old.
Neil and Debbie were leaders of our county's 4-H Senior Federation, too. Their kids were young back then - the age mine are now - and we used to meet in their living room. It was homey and fun and memorable. It's the kind of community and leadership I wish every young person could experience.
I have often wondered, looking back on all this, do people like Neil and Debbie understand the influence they have on the young people around them? When they help with the fair and the 4-H club and the youth group, do they think about how they're influencing those lives? Or when they organize a Friday night Fifth Quarter for their community, do they consider the lives they're influencing? Maybe even saving?
I'm going to go out on a limb and say probably not. I don't think a lot of the people I've written about this month do what they do in order to influence. They do it because it's the right thing to do. They do it because it's the thing God has put on their hearts and they relentlessly, passionately pursue it. Even when they have to make time. And energy.
I see Neil and Debbie's lives as ones modeled on service. Neil was a Master Farmer a couple years ago and in writing about their family and their Albion, Ill., farm, I was struck (again) by a simple life that yields powerful and remarkable influence by simply serving other people.
This story closed their Master Farmer profile:
There's a common thread in the Fearn family, tying together both a heart for service and a dedication to young people. Neil and Debbie are 4-H leaders, youth group leaders and strong advocates of their rural church's Fifth Quarter program. And as a fair board member, Neil spends fair week consumed in youth events.
Son Seth isn't surprised: "He has a strong passion for teaching youth and passing on good morals, values and work ethic to them."
His community agrees, even as they ask him to do more. When the Edwards County Farm Bureau board was looking for board members a few years back, Neil's name surfaced. But as manager Rebecca Perry recalls, the committee thought he might be too busy with 4-H, his church and the fair board to serve.
"However, the chairman said something I'll never forget: 'If you want the best man in the county for the job, ask Neil. You know the old saying, if you need something done, ask the busiest man you know.'"
It's exactly why Neil and Debbie are agriculturalists who influence.
Agriculturalists Who Influence: The Series
- Day 1: Introduction
- Day 2: Jim Evans
- Day 3: Becky Doyle
- Day 4: David and Nancy Erickson
- Day 5: Katie Pinke
- Day 6: Joe Hampton
- Day 7: Noreen Frye
- Day 8: Carolyn Olson
- Day 9: John and Kendra Smiley
- Day 10: Colleen Callahan
- Day 11: Neil and Debbie Fearn