Wilhelms observe history of exhibiting cows at county fair

Members of the Wilhelm family of Princeton marked the start, and for now, the stopping point, in a long tradition of exhibiting dairy cows at the Mille Lacs County Fair, this summer.

John Wilhelm, who is studying for an ag career in Willmar, was exhibiting his dairy cow at the Mille Lacs fair on Aug. 11 as the last dairy exhibitor in the Wilhelm family for the foreseeable future. That’s according to his uncle Tim Wilhelm, of Princeton.

Tim Wilhelm explained last week that there aren’t any more children in the Wilhelm family line left to exhibit cows at the county fair. John Wilhelm, 20, will not be able to continue in 4-H because of his age, so there will be a long wait for possible grandchildren to emerge to carry on the tradition, Tim said.

The beginning

Princeton Union editor Grace Dunn’s photo of Pam Lane, when she was 10-year-old Pam Trunk in 1951, with her Grand Champion dairy cow named Lady.

Pam Lane, of Princeton, marked the beginning of the Wilhelms exhibiting dairy animals at the Mille Lacs Fair by leading John’s cow into the fair judging ring for what is called the state fair lineup on Aug. 11. That’s when a judge selects which animals would be able to go to the state fair. It was symbolic because Lane, who was a Trunk but carried the Wilhelm ancestry on her mother Mildred Trunk’s side, was the first with the Wilhelm bloodline to exhibit a dairy animal.

Pam Lane grew up the daughter of Loren and Mildred Trunk, and Mildred’s father was Albert Wilhelm, brother to Tim Wilhelm’s father Bernard Wilhelm.

Lane’s start in the tradition, in 1951, turned out very well, Lane winning grand champion in two categories with her registered Holstein calf, Lady, at the Mille Lacs fair.

Princeton Union newspaper editor Grace Dunn photographed Pam with Lady and ran it with information about the grand champion wins. Lane was in the Greenbush Go-Fors 4-H Club which continues today.

Lane was 10 at the time and two years too young to be eligible to exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair. But “it was very exciting,” winning at the county level, she recalled last Saturday at her home as she opened a scrapbook that contained the newspaper photo of her and Lady.

“My dad was so proud because he felt he knew when he chose the calf it was a winner,” Lane said.

Some others in the Wilhelm line who have exhibited dairy cows, since Lane’s showing, were her brother Mick, Tim’s older brother Paul, Tim, and Tim’s younger brother Mark. John Wilhelm is the son of Mark and Pam Wilhelm.

Pam, reminiscing about being a 10-year-old girl with a grand champion calf, said her calf Lady “was just a lady,” calling the mostly white Holstein “beautiful.”

When Pam reached age 12 she won a state fair trip with a dairy animal, and last week recalled her time at the big fair as “the scariest time in my life.”

She went to the state fair with six boys from Mille Lacs and those boys didn’t have anything to do with her, she said. She remembers how the cattle barn was on one end of the state fair grounds and the 4-H building on the other and she had to figure out how to get from one to the other. She made many of those trips, she said, because she didn’t want to miss any of the meals at the 4-H cafeteria. She also remembers having to sleep on the topmost bed in a triple-tier bunk bed in the 4-H dorm.

Still, that first state fair experience was good enough that she wanted to do it again, she said, and she repeated the trip four more times. Two of those were with cattle, one was with a dress exhibit, and the other with a 4-H food demonstration.

And what were Lane’s thoughts as she took John Wilhelm’s dairy animal for a symbolic turn in the judging ring on Aug. 11?

“Will she step on me?” Lane laughed, and added, “No,” she was “proud to be part of that era.”

Lane also made an observation about John Wilhelm. “John is like someone born in the barn,” she said, “because he loves it (agriculture) so much. He wants his life to be dedicated to farming.”

John said by phone on Monday, as he stood in an alfalfa field as part of an ag class at Ridgewater College in Willmar, that seeing Lane take his cow into the state fair lineup was “great.”