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    The 4-H Spirit

    By John Commins
    Photography by Mike Roemer

    When 10-year-old Alec Karcz of Bonduel, Wis., found out his grandparents had cancer, he knew he needed to help.

    It happens that Alec and his sister Anna, 15, both members of the Lanstad 4-H, were raising hogs for the livestock show at the Shawano County Fair, and Alec decided to donate the money he raised from auctioning his pig toward cancer research, to honor his grandparents.

    There was one small hitch: His pigs didn’t make the required weight. “I guess I didn’t feed them enough food,” he says.

    The pigs were too small to compete for a ribbon at the livestock show, but the fair organizers learned about Alec’s plans to raise money for cancer research so they agreed to let him auction the pig at the fair’s market animal sale.

    Still, Alec was disappointed, recalls his mother, Amanda Reitz, fearing that his plans to honor his grandparents wouldn’t come to pass. Before he could shed a tear, however, big sister Anna stepped in.

    Seeing how hard her brother had worked, Anna finagled a lopsided trade that was most advantageous for her little brother; in exchange for one of his smaller pigs, Anna would swap out a 232-pound porker named Muffin. The deal allowed Alec to both compete in the livestock show, and then auction his critter for cancer research.

    “I was a little surprised when Anna offered, but then again I wasn’t,” recalls Amanda. “Deep down I figured she would. She’s really into animals and takes a lot of pride in raising them, but she also knew how important this was to Alec. She showed us what 4-H is really all about.”

    Anna’s generosity even impressed Alec. “Yeah, I guess it was a nice thing to do,” he concedes.

    When the fair finally arrived in early September, Muffin won second place in Alec’s age group. Alec was thrilled but knew he still had a pig to sell at auction. He went into the animal sale with the modest hope of raising at least $500 whole hog.

    Shawano County is located about 40 miles northwest of Green Bay, with a population of about 41,643 the last time anyone counted. Days before the auction, Alec had been interviewed by local radio stations. Before he walked into the auction ring, just about everyone at the fair knew about Alec’s crusade against cancer. And if they didn’t, the auctioneers made sure they did, by reminding the crowd that Muffin was going to a good cause just before bidding opened.

    Charlie Harvey, owner of Charlie’s County Market in Shawano, has bought animals at the auction for the past 25 years, but he’s never seen anything like the frenzy surrounding Muffin.

    “Sometimes those biddings can turn into wars,” he says. “I don’t think we started the bidding that high. It just steamrolled. It was a neat idea. It hit a nerve and got everybody going.”

    Charlie did his part to keep the bids rolling and within 10 minutes Muffin topped out at $30 a pound, more than $6,900 whole hog. When the gavel dropped, Pat Karcz, a distant relative of Alec’s and the owner of Farm Crop Services Insurance of Pulaski, was named the proud owner of Muffin. Karcz immediately donated Muffin back to the auction, where the hog brought in an additional $500 for the local 4H scholarship program.

    The auction demonstrates the sense of community in Shawano County and provides a valuable lessons for the youngsters who take on the awesome responsibility of raising livestock, Charlie says.

    “It’s a good project for these kids,” he says. “Better than watching TV or playing on those mobile phones.”

    The success of the auction has made Alec even more enthusiastic about raising livestock.

    “Next year he’s raising a lamb,” says Amanda, “for a different cause.”