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Getting ready for the fair: Sisters unite in annual blue ribbon pursuit

It started small — a simple public speaking project for one 10-year-old Washington County girl. Now, five years later and with the help of some very kind neighbors, Olivia Ortiz and her three sisters may be some of the best examples of Appalachian Fair competition around.
“We were trying to find things for them to do,” explained Dorothy Hale, who with husband Tommy, runs a beef farm in the county. The girls’ father works for the Hales and the family lives in a house near the couple’s home.
Dorothy, as well as her husband, have deep roots in the 4-H organization and after a conversation with local Washington County Extension agent Connie Sharp, the couple decided 4-H activities and subsequent Appalachian Fair competitions would fit the bill.
The girls took to it immediately.
“I started out doing some demonstrations and public speaking,” said Olivia, a sophomore at Daniel Boone High School who will soon be 16. She admits to still being shy when speaking in public, but said the projects have helped her gain confidence.
It has also introduced her to a love of sewing and baking.
“I really like entering the quilts that I make,” Olivia said. “At first it was really frustrating. Probably what got me interested was the quilt designs I saw.
“I like making cookies and cakes too,” she added with a smile.
Andrea, her younger sister who is a freshman at Boone, also likes to quilt.
“I like the way you get any fabric and just combine it,” she said. “And I like to bake.”
Jessica’s favorite fair competitions can be found in the livestock category. Jessica is an eighth-grader at Sulphur Springs School.
Somewhat of a tomboy, according to Dorothy, Jessica works with calves to halter break and show them at their finest to judges who watch every move.
That’s not always easy, according to the girls. Those calves often have minds of their own, they say.
And 9-year-old Diana, a fourth-grader at Sulphur Springs, is most interested in recycling projects, such as the winning “old boots planted with hens and chickens” that was last year’s stand-out. Diana is too young as yet to be part of the 4-H activities, Dorothy explained, so she competes in the Farm & Home Building events.
Of course, their favorites are only a small part of what the girls do. This year, Olivia, Andrea, Jessica and Diana will be competing in everything from quilting, recycling, baking and flower arranging to table settings, pencil drawings and pastels.
The fair is an exciting time for them, they admit, but not just because of the exhibits and competitions.
First it — in addition to various camps, boards and conferences throughout the year — has given each girl the chance to spread her wings, explore the world and grow in confidence, according to Dorothy. Currently, Olivia and Andrea already know they want to go into the medical field, while young Diana is determined to be a veterinarian.
Even before the fair begins, the older girls will be busy helping set up, and afterward will often be behind the scenes, handling lighting, cooking and making sure things run smoothly.
And second, according to these girls, it’s a wonderful chance to hang out with their friends and enjoy the carnival rides, music and fun that’s all part of the Appalachian Fair.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt, they admit, when they can come home with a blue ribbon or two.