The Box Elder County Fair, one of the most celebrated spectacles of summer in Utah, is made possible by the behind-the-scenes work of an army or volunteers.
Over the last 12 years, few have given more time and effort to the cause than Bob Belew.
Belew’s specialty at the fair and throughout the year is small animals, specifically chickens and pigeons. He has served as a mentor to hundreds of youth in the 4-H small animal program, teaching them the finer points of showing the birds and doing all that it takes to win a coveted ribbon at the fair.
While chickens, pigeons and rabbits have been part of the huge livestock show for decades, there was no organized 4-H club for that classification until Belew came along, and at the request of fair organizers, started one.
For three years, he politely declined requests from the USU Extension office for him to start a club, until a grandson of his grew old enough to participate in 4-H. Belew took his grandson to a poultry club event in Farmington, and the boy took a shine to the birds. That was all the motivation he needed to get organized.
“They called again the next year and I said I’ll do it,” he said. “Twelve years later, here we are.”
In the club’s first year, Belew signed up about a dozen kids to participate. That number has grown steadily over more than a decade, and chickens and pigeons have become a mainstay at the fair thanks largely to Belew’s efforts.
“Thursday nights we would hold meetings starting the first week of June up until fair time,” he said. “I taught kids the right way to put a chicken in the pen and take it out, and the judges would ask five or six questions. We would give every kid a medallion with a ribbon to put around their neck. I wanted to see every kid at least get one of those.”
Membership in the chicken club quickly grew from around 12 kids to about 45, and it wasn’t long before the Extension office came knocking again, asking him to start a pigeon club as well.
“I had pigeons as a kid, so I thought I could link them together (with the chickens),” he said. “We don’t do showmanship with them, just put them in pens and the judges pick best of show, best of breed, best pair trophies. But the kids still get their prize money.”
But his contributions to the fair don’t end with birds. Belew has been a tireless fundraiser, forming relationships with local businesses and county officials to raise money for new facilities and building renovations and improvements at the fairgrounds, and for prizes for the annual chicken and pigeon shows. His grassroots efforts have helped build new poultry pens and other structures, and generally help make the fair’s livestock show second to none in the state and the region.
Belew has created long-lasting relationships with local prize sponsors, up to point where the program now receives more than $1,000 in gift cards every time the fair rolls around.
“We make sure they all get a thank you card, and every one of them says ‘see you next year.’”
He gives credit to the generous spirit of the local community for making things happen.
“Box Elder County is the most giving bunch you’ve ever seen,” he said.
He recounted the story of one local business owner who donated as he has done every year, despite being in a life-or-death battle with cancer.
“He’s in the hospital and I didn’t know if I should ask this year, but I went there (to the business) and his daughter said he told her to ask if we wanted gift cards,” Belew said. “He’s fighting that battle, and was still thinking about doing that for the kids. That’s the kind of people you find here.”
He has also become a go-to guy for distributing the annual fair book guide. Every July, Belew enlists the help of 4-H kids to take copies of the book around to local businesses from Brigham City to Snowville and all points in between.
“We deliver to more than 100 businesses and cover about 270 miles by the time we’re done,” he said.
Belew will turn 79 this year, and said he isn’t sure how much longer he will be able to continue his work with the fair. For the last two years he has been mentoring someone to eventually take over the work, but for now he says he continues to be motivated by the spirit of the fair.
“This fair is one of the best in the country, and it’s the biggest thing in Box Elder County,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of what I do at the fair.”
But the longest-lasting impressions he will take away from the work when he finally decides to call it quits will be the positive impacts he has been able to have on the kids in the program. Making a difference in the lives of youth makes all the hard work worthwhile for him.
“My concern is always teaching them to be responsible for their animals,” he said. It gives them something to do, keeps them off the street.”
He recounted a story of a couple with a son who was very shy, and they couldn’t talk him into to participating in the showmanship portion of the chicken program. They asked Belew to have a talk with the boy, and watched their son come out of his shell before their eyes.
“I sat him down and told him how proud his mom and dad would be if he did this. I told him that he knew the answers to all of the questions, and he could do it,” he said. “He missed one question and got third place, and that mother and dad, just the look on their faces — that’s all that mattered.”
Belew’s long-standing contributions to 4-H and the Box Elder County Fair will be recognized in August when he takes his rightful place as Grand Marshal in this year’s fair parade.
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