Only 12, 4H member already a local and national winner
Kennedy Whetzel held the halter on Levi, a 1,375 Maine-Anjou steer standing on the open lawn next to her grandfather’s house, and stroked his belly with a hooked show-stick as his massive body stood motionless.
She occasionally had to poke his toes to practice getting his stance and posture correct.
Weighing only 100 pounds, Whetzel, 12, won the 2017 national Miss Junior High School of America pageant contest in July and in August was prepping Levi for showing at the 100th Shenandoah County Fair.
Last year she won two grand champions for her pig and lamb and reserved grand champion for her market steer in only her third county fair showing animals as part of 4H.
National pageant winner and county 4H champion, Kennedy, an “A” student at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School in Woodstock, isn’t sure which she likes best.
“I can’t pick between them,” she said. “They are so different.”
The pageant genes come from her mother, Brooke, 39, a pharmaceutical sales representative with Biogen, who was 5 years old when she entered her first pageant.
And Kennedy’s dad, John, 42, who is a sales representative for MWI, showed animals at 4H fairs when “I was kid. It definitely teaches you responsibility.”
In the cool of summer evenings, Kennedy practices with Lindsey LoHam, the 250-pound Yorkshire/Hampshire pig she will show; Levi, who she has worked with since the steer was born 16 months ago, and an unnamed Suffolk-Hampshire cross lamb.
“I’m always sad, especially when you name them,” she said. “But I look at it like they had a good life with me and if not, they would have ended up in a feed lot.”
Carol Nansel, who works with 4H youth as a Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent in Shenandoah County, noted that these animals “are raised to be on someone’s plate.”
Saying good-bye, she said, isn’t always easy.
“A tenet of 4H is they are not raised to be pets,” said Nansel, who said Kennedy “works well with animals, doesn’t mind getting dirty and gets along with others.”
And Kennedy’s father added that she has learned about meat cuts.
“A lot of people go to the grocery store and don’t know what the cut of meat means on the label.”
At the pageant it was interviews, beauty, glitter and fashion show talent that Kennedy displayed to win the national Miss Junior High School Pageant on July 1 in Little Rock, Arkansas. She earned $10,000 toward college, a bevy of gifts from more than a dozen pageant sponsors and a contract.
Anti-bulling is the pageant’s national platform and Kennedy has accepted responsibility to make five community appearances a month to talk about BRAVE – Building Respect And Value for Everyone.
She talks to students, Girl Scout troops and threw out the first pitch at a Valley League River Bandits baseball game.
“I want to do anything that I can do to help people that might be bullied,” she said.
Her activities have grown her circle of friends.
“Basically all the friends I have are from school pageants or showing animals,” she said.
“I have a friend in Hawaii I text all the time,” she said. “We have a lot of things in common.”
She said she feels she is learning life skills, from handling interviews at pageants and the hard work and responsibility of raising and showing at fairs.
At school, she likes drama and singing and wants to try out for the basketball team next year. (She is 5 feet 7 inches tall.)
Her college nest egg so far includes $25,000 from showings to go with her pageant winnings.
“I want to go to Liberty University (in Lynchburg) and become a lawyer and minor in vocal performance,” she said.
“My dad says I am a good arguer,” she said and he agreed. “I get it at work and at home,” he laughed, often encountering debates in his sales role.
And while she raises cattle, sheep and hogs and enjoys Stoney, an Australian sheep dog at home, there are no cats in the household.
“For some reason, I don’t like cats,” Kennedy said. “They are too high maintenance.”