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A WHY Worthy of our Thanks

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Industry News Lifestyle Showpig News

A perspective from  Megan Wendt


Fun fact about me – I did not grow up showing livestock. In fact, the first time I saw a pig in person was in the winter of 1996 when I followed a cute guy to the farrowing house at our mutual friends’ farm where he kept his sows. I just really wanted to see, hold, and snuggle with some baby pigs and show him I wasn’t afraid of anything. To say the culture shock was extreme would be an understatement! The moms were so big! The babies were so wriggly and not at all snuggly! The smell was, well, {intense}, but it was overshadowed by my love for Kevin and an insatiable curiosity that developed from a need to know everything about the environment that had raised such an incredible man. 

Fast forward to August of 1996 and the babies I had failed to convince to snuggle with me grew shockingly fast and were ready to compete at the Ohio State Fair. Now don’t get me wrong,I had my own experience at the Ohio State Fair years before as a middle schooler. I was in 4H but my jam was sewing. I was pretty good at it too! I even won Best of Show at state with a hiking outfit I designed and sewed but never actually hiked in, or ever wore again for that matter. Aside from fostering a love for apple dumplings though, that experience did nothing to prepare me for the bizarre world I was about to discover down the midway in the barns.

Those who know me best know that even though I seem pretty laid back and easy going on the outside, under the surface burns a competitive fire that would rival Michael Jordan’s. I love to compete, hate to lose, and I thrive on having a strong competitor to push me and keep me sharp. This drive was born on the softball field and volleyball and basketball courts throughout my formative years, and I was excited to have a place to channel that competitive spirit since my playing days were behind me. 

Right or wrong, my many years in sports taught me that my competition was my enemy and was to be fiercely hated. There are girls I played against that I still hate a little because they were so good we could never beat them. Just mentioning Summer, Jamie, or Holly could bring out the absolute dragon in me. As a lifelong Cleveland fan, I still cringe when I see John Elway for what he did to my beloved Bernie Kosar – led Browns. I’m not exactly proud of it but this was the frame of reference I brought to the barn that day – hatred for any and all competitors.

With this context in mind, maybe you can imagine my utter confusion when, as we were walking back to our pens with our {not first} place ribbons, Kevin stopped in his tracks to shake the hand, pat the back, look in the eye, and congratulate Don R. Smith, the winner of the class that day. I watched in absolute awe as this happened over and over – one by one, competitors paused their own disappointment and expressed genuine joy and respect for one another and their accomplishments. They even congratulated us, even though I really didn’t think we’d accomplished anything. My brain struggled to process what I was experiencing as we talked and laughed with the people we’d just battled with and enjoyed the ice cream the winners bought for everyone after the banners were given. Although I don’t remember how a single pig we showed that day was placed, what happened in the O’Neill Swine Barn that day in August would change the trajectory of my life forever. 

Our turn to buy ice cream!

When we got to a safe place for my usual onslaught of questions, I asked Kevin for clarification the only way I knew how – bluntly. “Why were you so nice to those people? They just beat us, doesn’t that make you mad? Don’t you hate them a little for winning? Were you just being fake happy for them?” His answer is forever seared into my memory, which he will tell you is saying something since few things he says ever truly are.

“No, I don’t hate them at all. I’m genuinely happy for them.” He pointed out individuals across the barn and continued. “They work really hard at this and are great people. I bought my first gilt at that guy’s farm when I was in high school and that guy helped me get my start in the auction business. That couple gave me gas money once after I worked the ring at their pig sale when I had no money. They raise good pigs and they are good people and this win will help their business. This is a shot in the arm that will do us all some good.  Yes, I’m disappointed we didn’t do better, but I’ve got to make the hogs better. I’m more motivated than ever to get back home and get after it.” 

“But does everyone think like you do about each other? It seemed like it, but is it for real?”

“Sadly no, not everyone, but the ones that have been taught the right way do. The ones who know that when one of us does well it helps all of us. The people and the industry win and we all keep going strong. You watch, Don will buy a gilt in the auction as a way to give back and build into the next guy. This year it’s Don, next year it’ll be someone else, and we’ll keep learning from and pushing each other to keep getting better and build for the future.” It was a completely new way of thinking that opened my eyes and a part of my heart that I didn’t know was there. Love felt so much better than hate, respect so much better than jealousy. I was hooked.

Conversations with strangers that day lead to lifelong friendships that spanned across the state and eventually the entire country. I found my people in the most unlikely of places. I discovered a place where it is possible to be high level competitors and genuine friends. It was the best of the worlds I loved which never really fit together nicely before – the thrill of competition paired with a love and respect for others that I had been taught in Sunday school. Even though the pig world was totally foreign to me, I decided that day that our not-yet-born kids would grow up in the barn and follow in their Dad’s footsteps instead of mine. 

Since then, I have had the good fortune to watch those kids who showed that day in pigtails and red boots grow up to become stellar humans. Today they are producers, farmers, business owners, bankers, teachers, coaches; all who lead with integrity. Some of them work with and for Kevin and I and we are so grateful for the qualities and character that were burnished in them in the barn and that we didn’t have to explain. They have married the boy who penned next to them all those years or dragged their spouses into the barn for a glimpse of their future. Their parents have become the grandparents who push strollers through crowds, and some of their own kids are now in the very ring their parents were raised in. I am continually in awe of the legacy and strength of the community we get to be a part of, and I struggle to find its equal anywhere else in the world.

The friends that started it all!

I’ve realized over the course of the last 25 summers in the O’Neill swine barn and all the barns I’ve been in across the country that the pigs are secondary to the real reason we do what we do. This is a people business, and our kids are driving so much more than just a show pig. It’s truly a vehicle to get them to where they are going and who they are going to be. It’s easy sometimes to forget how special a place the show barn really is. Somedays the emphasis on winning as the only measuring stick for success overshadows our real purpose –  

To raise great kids around great families. 

To give them a place they feel like they belong.

To provide a mirror to show them who they are when no one is looking and who they were created to be. 

To teach them someone is always looking.

To teach them to protect their word, that integrity matters.

To teach them to love and care for something outside of themselves.

To teach them how to win humbly and keep striving for excellence.

To teach them how to lose graciously and bounce back from failure. 

To teach them how to truly see and respect others as people who are working just as hard as they are to succeed. 

To teach them life isn’t always fair but we just keep swimming and do the next right thing. 

To teach them that a rising tide raises all ships. 

To teach them that the golden rule actually works. 


And to teach them to respect what we have; to protect it and keep it going – for their children and their children’s children. This show pig world is a crazy, messy, beautiful thing that inspires me every single day. In this season of Thanksgiving, I’d like to issue a challenge to all of us. Let’s take a moment to refocus our hearts and minds on why we do all of this. Take a moment to reflect on how lucky we are to get to do what we do, and strive to be the ones who pass the right torch to the next generation as a thank you and a hat tip to the legacy of the ones who passed it to us.