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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Meet the Baker County Fair Family for 2004

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Meet the Baker County Fair Family for 2004

The Wendt family includes eight children, 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, most of whom live nearby. (Baker city Herald/Kathy Orr).
The Wendt family includes eight children, 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, most of whom live nearby. (Baker city Herald/Kathy Orr).

By MIKE FERGUSON

Of the Baker City Herald

HAINES — Getting the Wendt family together at their Haines ranch for a portrait and family interview is no simple task. After all, Carl and Barbara Wendt have eight children, 11 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren, not all of whom live locally.

But once the family's assembled, it's a simple matter to get the Wendts to open up about the Baker County Fair and to share memories of their beloved Lone Pine Heirs, the 4-H chapter that Barbara Wendt founded in 1965 and continues to help lead.

Here's how to do it: Just gather as many Wendts as will fit into the family's living room, get out your notebook, and start scribbling.

A long history of 4-H projects

While his children were growing up, Carl Wendt, a Haines rancher, concentrated on 4-H livestock events while Barbara Wendt focused on the indoor events, including cooking and sewing.

It wasn't always that way. Carl remembers taking on 4-H projects during the late 1930s while attending the Beaver Creek School south of Baker City — projects that had nothing to do with livestock, he says. Instead they were the same cooking and sewing projects that his wife, children and grandchildren would later enjoy together.

"It was all through the schools then," Carl Wendt remembers. "Our teacher was our 4-H advisor."

And when Barbara's Lone Pine Heirs club began, it wasn't at all an indoor club. It began as an outdoor cooking club.

"Barbara's philosophy of, ‘If the kids are interested in another project, we'll give it a try. I can learn along with the kids' saw her 4-Hers complete all kinds of imaginative indoor exhibit projects," said Dotty Miles of North Powder, the Haines postmaster and one of the people who nominated the Wendts for this year's honor.

Barbara, a former schoolteacher, says that the Lone Pine Heirs added projects gradually over the years, building on the outdoor cooking core curriculum.

"Eventually we tried everything but dogs and horses," she said. "At one time or another we've had our kids involved in just about everything."

Barbara says if she had one wish for 4-H, it would be for more parents to take an active role.

"The more involved the parent is, the more successful the child's experience," she said. "I'm staying involved for the grandkids and the great-grandkids. I'm 74, but somebody has to do it.

"I do it just for the satisfaction of having a kid come running up to you saying, ‘Look! I got champion!' That makes a leader feel pretty good."

The number of children participating in 4-H projects not involving livestock is down in the Haines and North Powder areas, the Wendts say. The reason is that "there are so many other opportunities available to children," says Carla Aichele, the oldest daughter.

"It used to be a necessity to know how to sew," Carla says. "Now there's huge attention spent on livestock, and less on the indoor events," because fewer people sew their own clothes.

Still, it's the unpredictability of animal behavior that spurs Carla's memories of 4-H. A pig she showed one year "rooted in the sand of the show arena, and wouldn't get up for anything," she says with a laugh. "Finally the judge just said, ‘Let him stay there.'"

Melissa's memories take her back to her first 4-H camp, the summer before she began the eighth grade.

"I was so homesick I called home in tears," she said. "But by the end of camp I'd gotten over it, and I haven't stayed home since. My family will tell you that 4-H is to blame for the fact that I'm never home in summer. I'd sure be a lot less busy without it."

Herself a 4-H advisor now, Melissa believes one of the strengths of the record-keeping requirements is that it encourages youth to achieve to a standard.

"We girls stuck it out," she says of her four sisters, "and one reason we did was we learned to keep good records."

Another fond memory was the old "Favorite Foods" contest, when 4-H contestants prepared an entire meal for the judges and allowed Fair attendees to sample their dishes.

Like many other families, the Wendts' busy summer season culminates each year with the Baker County Fair, where Barbara's face became a familiar one at the food booth. Melissa has now taken over the booth — for pay, she says, not gratis like her mother used to.

The 1970 "mini-tornado" that picked up the money table and twirled it across the parking lot, tore down awnings and shades and covered everyone with swirling dirt lives in family lore.

So do the primitive conditions under which Barbara and her food crew formerly operated.

"Barbara ram-rodded that institution for many years," Miles said. "Tired of washing dishes in the hog trough at the neighboring swine barn, she pushed to install such luxuries as electricity and running water!"

Even though the "cook shack," as it's known, has received significant upgrades since then, it still has the same grill that Barbara began firing up in the 1960s.

Barbara's longtime contributions to the Lone Pine Heirs have led to her nomination to the 4-H Hall of Fame in Corvallis.

"I guess it's what happens when you sit in that Home Ec Building every year (during the Fair) from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m.," she said. "But I think other people probably deserve it more."

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