La PORTE — For his last year showing dairy at the county fair, Rolling Prairie's Ben Johnson sought to "knock it out of the park" this week.
Judging by the sheer number of ribbons and trophies lined up outside his animals' stalls in the dairy barn Thursday, he did that and then some.
The 18-year-old took home a pair of Supreme Champion awards during the 2019 Dairy Show at the La Porte County Fair Thursday — the senior award for his Holstein, named All the Way, and the junior award for his Holstein heifer, named Harmony. Another of his cows, a Jersey, was also named Reserve Champion in the senior category.
"I'm happy for my last year to go out with a bang," he said, celebrating with his family outside the dairy barn Thursday.
Johnson, a member of the Kankakee Hustlin' Hoosiers, entered the 2019 fair in his 10th and last year of eligibility to compete in 4-H. Though he has enjoyed success at prior fairs — last year, Harmony was also named the Supreme Junior Champion — this year was by far his best, he said.
The recent graduate of New Prairie High School has shown dairy and dairy steers at the fair ever since he joined 4-H, and even before that as a Pee Wee, he said. Johnson decided to show animals to follow in the footsteps of his older brothers, Brad and Blake, as well as his father, Bobbie, who died two years ago, Johnson said.
"[My father] was a big influence in me doing this, and continuing to do it," he said.
To top off his 4-H career, Johnson said he worked harder than ever caring for his dairy cattle. He spent hours every day walking his animals, making sure they were eating right, taking care of their skin — "like a giant dog, basically," he explained.
"I've been around cows my whole life," he said. "This is like second nature to me."
In total, Johnson showed seven cattle at this year's fair — five on Thursday, and two dairy steers in Tuesday's beef show.
With his time showing at 4-H coming to a close, Johnson plans to follow in his family's footsteps once more — more specifically, those of his grandfather and uncle, who served as volunteer firefighters. Over the past several months, the 18-year-old has studied for his firefighting entrance test, in hopes of becoming a full-time member of a department soon, he said.
"I want to save people for a living," he said.
While his new path in life may take him away from the barn, he still plans on dropping in on future fairs.
His advice for 4-H'ers following in his wake is quite simple.
"Work hard, and stay focused," he said.