GIBBON — Allison Wilkens will be in the spotlight the last weekend in July for two of the biggest events of her young life, her Gibbon High School graduation and final Buffalo County Fair as a 4-H exhibitor.
Neither event will be the way she or anyone else involved expected a few months ago, before COVID-19 health measures required many activities to be canceled or reimagined.
“We’ve been looking forward to these last couple of months for years,” Allison said about seeing several senior year traditions changed.
First, she and her 32 Gibbon classmates saw prom canceled. Then they had to finish their classwork from home after schools were closed. Spring graduation was postponed to July 25.
Allison, 18, her sisters — Lindsay, 16, Jamie, 11, and Harvest, 6 ½ — and other Buffalo County 4-H members continue to prepare entries for a county fair closed to the general public. The only fairgrounds events July 22-27 in Kearney will be judging of 4-H animals and static exhibits.
Allison and her mom, Kim, said Gibbon’s graduation will be a small ceremony in the high school gym open to only the graduates’ parents and siblings. Kim said school officials didn’t realize July 25 was during fair week when they selected the new date.
“I think they just kind of picked the latest date in July to see how this COVID stuff turned out,” added Allison, who will give her salutatorian’s speech in a gym with only the seniors allowed in floor seats set 6 feet apart for social distancing.
A reception for their family and friends will follow at the family’s corn and soybean farm northwest of Gibbon.
The Wilkens still are deciding whether to take the lottery pigs for Allison, Lindsay and Jamie to the fair or use the virtual (video) option for those entries.
Buffalo County Extension educator Kerry Elsen said 21 Buffalo County 4-H members have lottery pigs this year. All of those pigs are crossbreds provided by David and Cody Klingelhoefer of Amherst.
Project participants are assigned pigs by a random drawing. They paid $110 per pig, are raising them to fair weights of approximately of 280-300 pounds and will sell them.
A concern for the Wilkens family was knowing the fair’s 4-H Lottery Pig Show usually is on Saturday night. Those pigs may be entered in showmanship at Sunday’s 4-H Swine Show, and the lottery division champion and reserve champion compete with other top pigs in the grand championship.
However, the 2020 fair will have show-and-go events, which means all animals will be brought to the fairgrounds on the mornings of their events and taken home after the shows. No animals will be housed overnight on the fairgrounds.
Elsen said the 2020 plan has the same types of animals on the fairgrounds on the same day. So all swine events, including the lottery pig classes, will be Sunday, July 26.
Allison said the traditional schedule would have required her and her sisters to make round trips to Kearney with the pigs both weekend days — with graduation in the middle. “That might have been too overwhelming,” she added.
The Wilkens sisters will have other Buffalo County Fair entries.
Allison, Lindsay and Jamie are members of the East Kearney Livestock 4-H Club, while Harvest is participating for the first time as a Clover Kid.
“I’m gonna show a chick and bake cookies,” Harvest said. The cookies will be judged at the fair, but she and her chicken named Julia will participate in the Clover Kids Show & Tell via Zoom.
In addition to her lottery gilt named Sky, Jamie plans to enter a baking project and make pickles, “probably dill.” She said her mom and grandma both make pickles.
Lindsay, who also has a lottery gilt, will bake “some kind of pie” and enter a painting she did while attending a barn quilt class at Central Community College in Kearney with her mom.
The family’s other pie entry will be baked by Allison.
“Cherry is my favorite, but I think I’m gonna try to maybe do something different,” she said.
Allison’s art entry will be a drawing she did in her high school art class. It replicates a group photo of the four sisters, with the word “sisters” used as shading throughout the drawing.
Her lottery pig is a barrow.
Allison’s other new animal “project” is Trooper, a 12-week-old Australian kelpie, border collie and Australian shepherd mix that will go with her to Curtis when she starts her first fall semester of classes at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture.
Her double major in diversified agricultural management and agribusiness fits her goal to be a sixth-generation family farmer.
“I’ve known for four or five years, I think,” Allison said about her career plans, “with Dad (Mike) having me come out and help with odd jobs and on the tractor. I like to work with my hands.”
Missing fair events
When asked what they expect to miss most at the limited 2020 Buffalo County Fair, the three oldest Wilkens girls talked about having time to hang out with other people.
“Usually, we’d sit around and play cards (in the Ag Pavilion). That’s fun because we can spend time with friends,” Jamie said.
“I think it’s just interacting with the different people, whether it’s (East Kearney Livestock) club members or other people showing pigs,” Allison said, and even 4-H’ers who show other animals.
Harvest said she’ll miss the carnival games and opportunities to look at animals her family doesn’t have. Her mom said that really means animals she would like to have.
“Bunnies,” Harvest shouted with a smile.