4-H provides lasting memories, life lessons for Nihsen family
SHELBY COUNTY — For many 4-H families, the Shelby County Fair is a place where memories are made. For Tony and Ashley Nihsen, their family’s story began at the Shelby County Fair.
“My husband and I met at the fair 21 years ago. It seems like a long time ago,” Ashley said. “We both showed cattle. He and I were both the first of our siblings to be involved in 4-H.”
Now decades later, the Shelby County Fair is an annual tradition the couple happily experiences with their five children.
Landon, 15 and Brody, 12, are both members of the Northwest Leaders 4-H Club.
Scarlett just turned nine, and she and six-year-old Ryker are in Creative Critters, a Clover Kids Club of which Ashley is a co-leader. Tate, the families’ youngest child, is four-years-old, and “is along for the ride with all the chaos,” Ashley said.
The two older boys will have seven cattle at the fair, and Scarlett and Ryker will have a bottle calf.
Ashley said for their family, fair week is about making memories and spending time together.
Outside of 4-H, the Nihsens are a busy bunch. Landon is involved with football, basketball, track, soccer, baseball, trap shooting, and swim team. Brody is in baseball, football, basketball, soccer, trap shooting, and swim team. Scarlett participates in soccer, swim team and softball. Ryker and Tate both play soccer and baseball.
The couple owns the acreage Ashley’s mother grew up on outside of Panama. Tony is self employed. He farms, owns a hog confinement building, and raises cattle, corn and soybeans. He also hauls grain for area farmers. Ashley has managed a labor and delivery department for over four years.
“It’s almost our week of down time. As crazy as fair week is, we are all their together and can enjoy the time together.”
“It’s just about making the memories,”Ashley said. “From water fights to first place ribbons and trophies to cake and project failures. Someone will say, ‘Remember when we tried that one? It didn’t go very well.’ Tony and I get to share our memories from the fair with them, like how the fair grounds have changed and different things that happened.”
She also said it’s a family affair, with her parents advising on some projects.
“The Northwest Leaders started when I was showing cattle,” she said. “The club still does a big potluck when the cattle show is over. It’s about tradition, and those traditions are still holding true.”
The Nihsen children take advantage of all the Shelby County Fair has to offer. Ashley said they have static exhibits; enter the pie and muffin baking contest, and participate in the parade every year. They do cake decorating and have participated in the table setting contest. The younger kids have done the stuffed animal parade and cookie decorating. All of them have been in the baby contest.
This year, one is competing in the Best of Iowa Contest. “That’s something new,” Ashley said.
She said each child enjoys different events, but all are excited for the bull riding.
“That has become everyone’s favorite.”
“We usually try to go to different events during the day, see things we aren’t participating in, watch other 4-Her’s and learn about what they are doing. There’s so much 4-H has to offer,” Ashley said.
The family also enjoys showing others what 4-H is all about. “The kids like bringing their friends who aren’t in 4-H. You don’t need animals or to live on a farm to be in 4-H. It’s fun to bring their friends show them the world of 4-H and try to talk them into joining,” Ashley said.
Ashley said her years in 4-H helped her develop skills she uses at her job on a daily basis.
“4-H is self-driven and you can learn amongst and from your peers, not because an adult tells you to do it. It is leadership, it’s about communication skills. It’s about learning how to be selfless and do things with and for other people. It teaches you to fly by the seat of your pants. Anyone who has been in 4-H knows how to adjust on the fly,” Ashley said.
“Working with people, hiring people, different things like accountability and work ethic, 4-H teaches you those things. That’s where I got my foundation,” she said.
The Nihsens focus more on the quality of their projects and lessons learned from them and less on the trophies and ribbons.
“If you don’t put the time in, don’t expect a good result. We always remind them, at the end of the day, it’s one man’s opinion, but you have to know you put 100% into that project,” Ashley said.
Part of putting the time in often involves early morning and late night chores for the older boys.
“We start in the fall. As soon as they get the animals off the trailer, they get a halter on them and start working with them. It’s their project, so it’s their responsibility,” she said, noting she and Tony help sometimes because they enjoy doing it.
“It’s mental health therapy. There’s something great when it’s just you and the animal.”
Ashley expects Landon and Brody will be competing against each other in several events this year.
“It’s fun for the kids to compete against each other and for each other. It will be fun to watch them. It doesn’t matter who walks away with what. They worked hard all year. That’s all that matters.”
“We try to teach life isn’t about everyone getting a trophy. That’s not how it works. Go out, work hard, put in the time and effort. If it pays off, it pays off,” she said.
“It’s a life lesson of 4-H.”