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4-H/Fair Newspaper Article

Tragedy doesn't stop Alaska's Biggest Little Fair

Thursday, September 03, 2009
Peninsula Clarion

For many families, the Peninsula State Fair at Ninilchik is the highlight of the year. For them, the world of 4-H revolves around this event, with young people from across the Kenai Peninsula bringing their year's efforts to the annual festivities. The recent fair was one that will not soon be forgotten, largely due to the unexpected, and tragic loss of 9-year-old Mathias "Matti" Martin. It was like the world of 4-H stopped for a moment, but then the world - and the fair went on. As other 4-H members prepared their animals for the annual Junior Market Livestock Auction, Laura McGinnis, fair director, reflected, "Matti and his family wouldn't have wanted it any other way, and we remembered him every step of the way." The previous afternoon, Matti Martin was involved in a fatal accident while grazing a family milk cow. Immediately his friends and 4-H family stepped up to take over for Matti and the Martin family, to be sure all chores, show, auction, and BBQ tasks were completed.
 
Nancy Veal addressed the crowd gathered to bid towards this year's auction. "As the Kenai Peninsula 4-H agent, I have never been more proud or humbled by being part of this community and our 4-H family. After the devastating events of the fair weekend, I am grieving, but not without hope. The families I work with are the cream of the crop. From being first responders to cleaning stalls and showing animals to writing thank you notes for all of the Martin family 4-H'ers, they stood ready to do whatever was necessary to meet the need. Their hearts were broken, but they carried on in honor of Matti Martin. Healing is a process and the kids and their families have been provided with tools to deal with this. 4-H is a community of strong families who love and respect each other. Crying together, sharing stories, and yes- even laughing together, has eased the pain. Donations from kids, fair vendors, people who weren't really acquainted with us, have flowed in. A huge thank you to each and every person who has given donations of money, time, compassion! I know the Martin and Lindeman families agree with me when I say: 'Kenai Peninsula people: You are the best!" exclaimed Veal.

As a 9-year-old, it was the first year Matti Martin had been able to participate in the Junior Market Livestock (JML) program. And for his project, he had raised a pen of six chickens. In Matti's honor, they were the first to go up for sale at the annual auction. Auctioneer Norm Blakely, took the bids fast and furiously. In the end, Blakely sold the chickens for nearly $1,000. Then, by taking add-ons from other bidders, another $4,489 was raised for a total of $5,489.44 for the chickens. Also in honor of Matti, Megan Hensen donated a turkey he had raised. The bird sold for $1,950 to close the successful auction. "This community always amazes me with their generosity, I don't think you'd see this happen anywhere else in the world," said Blakeley. As a token of appreciation to Blakely, who along with the Martin family from Soldotna, started the first JML auction some 30 years ago, some 4-H member home made cookies were presented to the auctioneer at the end of the auction. Overall it wasn't just the Martin chickens that brought record prices. Lambs, steers, hogs, & goats all brought high prices totaling nearly $80,000 in benefit of the 4-H Junior Market Livestock program.

 "It was the worst of fairs, but with the way the community responded, at the same time made it the best of fairs, said Fair Director McGinnis. "We'll all continue to grieve Matti's loss, but as a Fair family, we'll be planning a special project in the future, something to be sure he will never be forgotten," she added.

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