This post is a modification on a Facebook post I wrote last year. That post and the feedback I heard from other small town and 4H alumni became part of my inspiration for creating Small Town Leadership.

My family took our annual trip to the Ohio State Fair yesterday. When I am speaking to someone who doesn’t have a state fair background like I do, the commentary usually centers on a few things: the food, the attendees, and the ride workers. I want to shed light on the other side of the fair – the side that cultivates leaders and innovators. The side where kids show the animal they raised since it was a baby and where students describe the project they have worked on during summer vacation.

Here is my list of why the fair matters:

4-H was my “sport” and the State Fair was my “championship game” – Growing up in Republic, Ohio, kids were much more likely to be in the local 4-H club than a soccer team. 4-H is where I learned to be a leader and where I discovered my passion for public speaking. The proof of success was being selected to represent your local county at the state fair. You may have read about my earliest experience in this in my post A purple ribbon for me?

My first Ohio State Fair appearance - 50 cent poster boards and all!

My first Ohio State Fair appearance – circa 1989

Everyone doesn’t get a trophy – I learned some of my greatest lessons about losing through 4-H. There is only one blue ribbon and only one first prize. While I had many great winning moments, I also had my share of 2nd places and honorable mentions. This prepared me for later in life when I wasn’t the one hired or selected. The lessons learned on being a gracious winner and a respectable loser stick with me today.

Second Place

One of my many 2nd place ribbons

Project management from an early age – while some kids spend the summer at the pool, others are learning new skills. In my case, each summer I had 4-H projects ranging from cooking and sewing to first aid and laundry. While the meals were usually terrible and the the sewing projects sights to behold, the process of managing a project from start to finish instilled in me a sense of discipline.

It’s a summer home for many kids – and I was one of them. Since I was a little girl, I loved listening to the All-Ohio State Fair Band and Choir. When I was selected to participate in the band after my sophomore and junior years of high school, I felt like I was living a dream. We played on the hottest days and in the dirtiest barns, but we loved what we were doing and made friends for life.

State Fair trombonist

State Fair trombonist

All Ohio State Fair Band

All Ohio State Fair Band

The list goes on. If you have the chance to go to the fair – take a moment to look at the 4-H projects and walk through the barns. Listen to the band and choir. Avoid the food and the rides if it’s not your thing.

Small Town Leadership Lesson: Having responsibility and a chance to showcase a finished project at a young age provided a great foundation for my leadership skills and future success. Think about how you can instill these values in the youth in your life.



Small Town Leadership Founder; Natalie believes everything she needed to know to succeed in her career she learned by growing up in a town of 600 people. As a Certified Professional Coach and award-winning public speaker, she helps her clients and audiences make wherever they are feel like a small town. She lives in Dublin, Ohio with her husband, Rob, a professor at Ohio State and two little girls.

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