Swine club is like family for Andy and Cheryl Gall

    Andy and Cheryl Gall have hundreds of kids — 4-H kids, that is. 

    Posted on July 25, 2014 at 4:00 a.m.

    Elkhart County 4-H Swine Club leaders Andy and Cheryl Gall don’t just keep tabs on the swine club members during 4-H activities.

    They also watch out for the kids’ names in the paper, when they've accomplished something in sports or music.

    When they see a name they recognize, the sense of pride is almost equal to what they’d feel for a child of their own, Andy explained.

    “It’s like, ’Hey, that’s one of our kids,’” he said.

    At the fair on Thursday, soon after the Galls announced they’d be retiring as swine club leaders after nearly 30 years, they couldn’t walk more than a few feet without former 4-H’ers stopping them to wish them well.

    Jim Yoder, the father of one of the Galls’ former swine club members, was one who couldn’t miss the opportunity to thank the couple for their efforts in the club.

    “You did a lot for our kids, and I know sometimes it’s hard,” he said, stopping by the Galls’ table as they ate lunch in the Elkhart County Pork Producers barn at the fair.

    He turned to go, then looked back over his shoulder.

    “You’re coming back, right?” he asked. “You’ll be here?”

    Andy and Cheryl assured him nothing could keep them from 4-H.

    It’s a part of them, a story that started when Andy showed pigs and Cheryl showed dairy when they were kids.

    Then in the late 1980s, Andy started as assistant swine club leader under then-leader, Brett Whitehead.

    “After the first year, Brett and I realized our wives were doing most of the work, so we decided to give them a badge,” Andy said, laughing.

    That’s what started the couple’s 26 years of friendships and memories made under the shelter of the swine barn.

    Andy and Cheryl marveled at how 4-H bonds kids together during fair week.

    “They’re all here to show a pig, but at some point it’s almost like that’s besides the fact,” Andy said. “Their show isn’t that day, so they don’t worry about it. They play cards, or go walking around together.”

    And just like that, friendships start.

    Friendships are strong between the adult leaders too, and Andy and Cheryl said they’d gotten to know people they grew up with in a different way when serving in 4-H.

    The fair each year is just like a big family reunion, perhaps the only time all year the couple will see 4-H’ers long graduated from the program and moved away.

    “We love to hear their stories,” Andy said. “We ask them: ’Where you at? What are you doing? How are things going for you?’ They know we want them to come by and chat.”

    And it doesn’t matter how long it’s been, the connection between the couple and a former swine club member is often instantaneous.

    “When we are all here (at the fair), well, it’s like the last 51 weeks passed pretty fast,” Andy said.

    The couple is retiring to spend more time helping their grandchildren with their 4-H projects. Although they won’t be organizational leaders in the swine club anymore, they are quick to say they’ll still do whatever they can to help the club succeed.

    “We’re not going away, but we really want to be able to turn the reins over to someone else for the organizational leadership,” Andy said. “We’ve enjoyed it immensely, and someone else needs to get the experience we’ve had.”

    Follow reporter Lydia Sheaks on Twitter at @LydiaSheaks

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