Judging the Static

By Joseph L. Murphy

Long before the gates opened for visitors to the Boone County Fair volunteers, parents and youth congregated in the community building to have their time in front of the judge. Everything from jars of jam to photo prints of dogs passed through the doors of the building.

The photos, food and other items like clothing are called static displays in the world of 4-H and county fairs. But the work that youth put into the projects is anything but static. Non-static displays, like livestock, can steal the show at some fairs but to get the 360 experience a person should wander the isles of static projects to see what the next generation is accomplishing.

For Randy Souder of Rockwell City, a 20-plus year veteran of the county fair circuit, judging day is a time that he looks forward to every year.

"We're going to hold this one for consideration," Souder said while moving an elliptically shaped clock to a table behind him.

During his time at the Boone County Fair, Souder was at the helm of the Science, Engineering, and Technology judging. Automotive, aerospace, biological, chemical sciences, computers, electrical and woodworking projects all passed through his table.

"Once you start judging it is hard to stop," Souder said with his patented smile.

Souder has experience in judging many of the static project categories and has been a judge for numerous counties during his career. This year he will judge in five counties.

"All of the fairs I'm judging will fall within three weeks, so my schedule is busy," he said. "Every day I get to judge I learn something and that is exciting for me."

For about 12 years Souder went to judges training school to learn about what makes a successful project in the food division, communications division and many others. That's when he said he was tapped by the ISU Extension to start teaching other judges.

"Clothing construction is one of my favorite categories to judge. Clothing is no different than following a pattern for woodworking," Souder said.

To be knowledgeable about all of the different project areas he judges, Souder said he gathers information from a wide variety of sources.

"For years I used all of my judge's money to buy subscriptions to magazines. I used the magazines to learn about what these kids were doing," he said. "Especially the computer end of it."

Those magazines not only helped him become a better judge but it also helped with his farming operation.

"I built my planter monitor so I could do variable rate planting a long time ago," said Souder, who serves on the Iowa Soybean Association board of directors. "We're (judges) here to learn too."

Natalie Hedlund, the 4-H coordinator for Boone County, orchestrated the static judging day last week at the Boone County Fairgrounds while 14 judges and 75 volunteers viewed more than 900 exhibits.

"Next year we hope to break a 1,000," she said as a mother and daughter passed by with a dress form and clothing bags in tow.

Hedlund said that 48 of the static exhibits would go to the Iowa State Fair from Boone County Fair this year. Out of the 48, each division has a set number of projects that they can send on. This year Souder chose four projects that were sent to Des Moines for the big show but to find the final four he said he would probably hold back 10 projects.

"If you have a good project and know your stuff you will be successful with the judges," Hedlund said. "There's not a secret recipe, except maybe in the food categories."

Lillie Longhorn, a 4-H participant, is a 10-year veteran of static projects. Earning an extra year of eligibility in Minnesota before moving to Boone County. She has received blue ribbons in food and nutrition, photography, visual arts, needle arts and woodworking.

"I really enjoy getting to know all the people involved with 4-H and experiencing new options because 4-H give you a lot of that," Longhorn said. "I've learned important life skills like interviewing."

See more photos of the competion.