Family tradition: Claypool family has been a fixture at the Beltrami County Fair
SOLWAY, Minn. -- When their child wrinkled her nose at the smells at the county fair, Greg and Karen Claypool knew they'd soon be making a move. "We went to the fair and Shawna, she was 8, 9 years old, she made some comment about, 'Oh ick, cow po...
SOLWAY, Minn. - When their child wrinkled her nose at the smells at the county fair, Greg and Karen Claypool knew they’d soon be making a move.
“We went to the fair and Shawna, she was 8, 9 years old, she made some comment about, ‘Oh ick, cow poop,’ and Karen and I looked at each other and said, ‘We’ve got to get back on the farm,’” Greg recalled. “We ended up getting this place (in Solway) and within two years we had horses, rabbits, chickens and ducks. The pigs came a little bit later.”
These days, the Claypool name is synonymous with pigs. In fact, the swine barn at the Beltrami County Fair hosts an annual family reunion for the Claypools each August, with family traveling from all over the country to come together. “I have cousins who, when they plan their trips home to visit … a lot of times they plan it for the county fair because you can go there and you can see the majority of your family all in one shot,” said Wendy Nelson, Greg Claypool’s daughter.
Wendy, who recalled her own 4-H days with fondness, remains involved in the organization still today. She co-leads the Aure Active Ants 4-H club with her aunt, Pat Olsen.
“I feel like it really prepares you for adulthood,” Wendy said. “You do these projects and you take them to the fair. You sit down and you’re interviewing with the judges. Just the communication piece alone is really excellent for kids.”
Ann Marie Ward, the Beltrami County 4-H program coordinator, said an in email that the Claypools, now in their fourth generation of 4-H involvement, exemplify the 4-H motto: Making the Best Better.
“There is great depth and passion in the life lessons and sharing of friendships through 4-H with the Claypool family,” she wrote. “They are truly a keystone to the 4-H program in Beltrami County. They have shared so much and continue to give in so many ways to support positive youth development. … This is a collection of truly selfless people who consistently give of themselves to support and encourage our future leaders.”
Greg serves on the fair board and is also its swine superintendent and Pat works with Wendy to mentor youth throughout the year. Their grandchildren are now in 4-H, preparing for this year’s Beltrami County Fair, to be held Aug. 9-13.
“I do pigs,” said 9-year-old Kelsey Olsen, who will show three pigs and some ducks at the fair.
When asked what it means to be responsible for her pigs, Kelsey responded, “Clean its pen, and feed them, make sure it has food and water every day,” adding it can get to feel a bit like a chore after a while.
Jackson Nelson, 12, will show three pigs and also is involved in robotics through 4-H. He agreed that it can be hard work to take care of the pigs.
“As I got older, it got a lot harder,” he said. “Before I didn’t have to do any of the chores. But by the second year I had to start cleaning pens and stuff. This year, I’m spending time with them more than I did before. So it gets kind of harder.”
But hard work seems to be the Claypool way.
The family didn’t raise pigs, but their dad was in the pig-hauling business, driving from farm to farm to collect feeder pigs. As soon as the kids were old enough, they’d be grabbing pigs right along with him, driving the truck themselves once they came of age.
“We lived out in the country, and basically going in for the fair, or maybe getting lucky enough to go with mom to get the cream check, that was the only time we went into town,” Greg said.
“We didn’t do any sports,” Pat said.
“It didn’t work,” Greg agreed. “Sports for us was throwing hay bales, picking rocks, milking cows.”
One Christmas, when Greg drove down a country road he took note of a huge pig in a yard. As he got closer he could tell it was a castrated male, usually not used for anything other than food. But this one was huge, which meant it was likely a pet. So Greg stopped and talked to the owners, asking them to bring the big pig to the fair.
“They brought it as an exhibit and it went over so big, people were just amazed by this 700-pound pig,” he said.
An idea took root and by the next year, Greg had obtained a sow. He brought the sow and her litter to the next fair. That was Wilma, who would be known as the matriarch of the big Boris bloodline.
From Wilma’s litter, Greg raised one to a boar. This became the first Boris.
“He was huge,” Greg said. “People would come and take pictures.”
“We got all the same questions over and over again,” Pat said. “Can he walk? Can he stand up? How did you get him here?”
He became the highlight of the fair, or at least the swine barn.
Pat noted that one man came all the way from North Dakota, though they didn’t initially know that. He was hovering nearby and asking Boris to stand up, but the pig didn’t really want to.
“He came back later and he said, ‘Boris, I drove 400, 500 miles to see you. Would you please stand up?’ and my husband goes, ‘You drove how far? I will get him up for you,’” Pat said. “So he climbed in there and got him up and the man said, ‘Wow, that’s impressive. That’s really impressive. Paul Bunyan was a disappointment but Boris was not.’”
Today, they’re on Boris No. 9, each new Boris having been created by breeding with past 4-H pigs.
“Boris isn’t ours. The Boris line isn’t ours,” Pat said. “It belongs to the people who come to the Beltrami County Fair.”
A few of the Borises have been quite remarkable, though Greg and Pat can sit and tick them all off one by one without much trouble. Boris Jr., for example, was huge. He matched his father’s size the last year he was at the fair. Bubba was memorable too, all white. Then, there was Mega-Boar, who both Greg and Pat agreed would probably have surpassed both Boris and Junior in terms of size. But something happened and he crippled.
This year, though, there won’t be a Boris at the fair. Bodacious Boris – BoBoar for short – won’t make the trip.
“He’s not a huge, huge pig and we are full, full, full of 4-H pigs this year,” Greg said, “so we’ve decided not to bring him this year. We will hear about it. We do have a sow with litter so it’s not so bad, but we do know it’s going to be a disappointment for some.”
“It is part of the history and the future of the family.”
That’s how Jenna Claypool answered when asked about how interconnected 4-H has become with her extended family experiences. Jenna is Greg’s and Pat’s niece, the daughter of Jeff Claypool, who volunteers with the horse club, staying involved in fair operations on a different level.
“4-H changed my life in so many ways,” Jenna said, noting that it was through 4-H that she first learned about the Leader Dogs for the Blind program. As a youth, she raised three puppies that would become service dogs and as an adult has raised two others.
Today, she volunteers with the dog project through 4-H, teaching showmanship to 4-Hers, judging dog shows, and volunteering wherever she’s needed. She also previously coordinated the 4-H Ambassadors program.
“As a young adult, I did move away and had my own adventures away from Minnesota, but since I moved back a few years ago, I jumped right back in,” Jenna said.
Wendy Nelson said that she was involved as a youth in the 4-H programs for pigs, swine, fashion, and photography. Interestingly, she today works for Image Photography.
Likewise, she referenced the success of Erik Hokuf, co-owner of AirCorps Aviation. Wendy noted that he was a few years older than her but also involved in 4-H, taking a particular interest in aerospace.
“The people I was in 4-H with, the projects they did so many of as they got older, those are their vocations today,” she said. “It’s neat how those interests don’t change.”
The Beltrami County Fair runs Wednesday-Friday, Aug. 9-13 at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds, U.S. Highway 71 just north of Bemidji. Go to www.beltramicountyfair.org for more information.