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It’s all in the family for Illinois 4-H leader

Elias Mullinax at a 4-H fair

Elias Mullinax (foreground) shows one of his pigs at a 4-H fair. He has shown animals every year of the six years he has been involved with the organization.

Elias Mullinax is carrying on a family tradition.

The 15-year-old is in the middle of a long stint in 4-H. The student at Mount Vernon Township High School in Illinois follows his mother, Jana, who also spent 10 years in the organization. She now is a 4-H leader.

“Some kids get in and out,” she said. “It depends on the child and how involved they are and how much passion she has for 4-H. I was a member until I aged out.”

Elias has been in 4-H for six years and enjoys the activities and challenges offered. He has shown pigs for several years, a challenge he embraces.

“Every year, it’s basically starting over,” he said. “It’s sometimes hard getting them broke. They tend to not want to cooperate every time. After the first month or two, they get pretty broke.”

Jana Mullinax’s day job is as a cook at an elementary school, but she dedicates much of her time as a leader with the Showstrings 4-H Club in Marion County. The name reflects the history of the club.

“A lot of the members were kids who participated livestock shows,” she said. “They call that hitting the show string.”

She did the same, getting inspiration from relatives.

“Growing up, my grandparents had a farm,” she said. “My uncle showed cattle and that was something I wanted to be involved in. At an early age, I started helping him and showing them myself. In our chapter we have three or four members with animals they show — dairy goats, rabbits and other things.”

Elias is beginning his seventh year in 4-H. He has shown animals each year. He trains the pigs, bathes them and keeps their hair neat by brushing the animals. The pigs must hold their heads up and walk without stopping while being shown. He said each one is different.

“It’s a little weird to say, but they have their individual personalities,” Elias said. “You can get some crazy ones and some calm ones, too.”

He shows in the county 4-H fair and once showed in the Illinois State Fair. He hasn’t yet competed in the Du Quoin State Fair but may next year. Following the project, the animals will be sold.

While some young people will leave 4-H after a year or two, most stick around, Jana said. The Mullinax family obviously shares that passion.

“Besides teaching them skills in project areas, it encourages teamwork,” Jana said. “The goal with my club is to get kids involved in community service, helping others in our community.”

Elias is still deciding his future after high school. He does plan on continuing his education.

“I’m starting to think about getting a degree in criminal justice,” he said. “It’s something I’m interested in.”

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Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.

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