Judge brings a personal touch to fair

Providing what she didn’t receive as a 4-H member, Koop takes time to talk with contestants about why their entries were blue ribbon winners or just good efforts

TAMARA KOOP JUDGED artwork by Elizabeth Liimatta of Fredonia last week at the Ozaukee County Fair. Koop has judged for 25 years and loves the personal interaction with 4-H members. Photo by Mitch Maersch
Ozaukee Press staff

Tamara Koop has judged at area county fairs for 25 years and loves giving 4-H members what she didn’t receive.

“When I was in 4-H, I didn’t have this face-to-face,” she said last week in between judging art at the Ozaukee County Fair in Cedarburg, which opened to the public on Wednesday, Aug. 3, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 7.

Talking with children and adults about their arts and crafts, clothes and foods, Koop said, is a valuable experience.

For non-animal entries, she dropped off her items and picked them up a couple of days later and “see what ribbon you got. There would be cryptic notes on the back of the entry tag,” she said.

Now, she provides her input in person — what she likes, where improvements could have been made — along with hearing what and how participants created their pieces and why they used certain techniques.

“I like talking with youth, seeing what they know, what they’ve learned and offer suggestions,” Koop said.

“It’s sort of a pay-it-forward.”

Koop judged foods, until a cherry cobbler left her with a literal bad taste in her mouth.

The entrant had accidentally substituted salt for sugar but never tasted her dish. She had wondered why she didn’t get a brown crust, Koop said.

“That was back in the days when you tasted things. I held my face,” she said, then asked the girl to try it.

That one didn’t get a blue ribbon, but Koop said the girl at least “laughed it off.”

Some entries stand out for other reasons. A couple of weeks ago, Koop judged a wool plaid suit.

“If I had six hours with that girl, that suit could have been a $600 suit off the rack at Macy’s,” she said.

Koop’s judging career allowed her to see trends in sewing that altered what to look for. The technique of serging edges of garments, she said, replaced doing seam finishes to prevent fraying, she said.

Judging animals was different. Manuals had specific standards, and the judges talked directly to 4-H members.

“You need to learn your cows,” she said.

Koop grew up on a farm in the Town of Fredonia and got involved with the Waubeka 4-H Club, entering a host of items and animals in the fair, including sewed pieces and Jersey cattle.

“What didn’t I do?” she said with a laugh.

Koop said she was once called a “Renaissance woman” because of her varied 4-H experience and working on the farm.

“I sheared off the pin on the flywheel. Now how to do fix that?” she said.

Koop earned a bachelor’s degree in home economics education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and later a master’s degree in agricultural studies from UW-Platteville, then worked in 4-H youth development while volunteering for Rotary and the United Way.

She is a member of the Wisconsin 4-H Hall of Fame. She lives in Waukesha but still owns that Town of Fredonia farm where she grew up.

She has a judges’ license through the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, which is responsible for fair licensing and judges. There even used to be judge training schools, Koop said.

She used to enter photos from trips with her 35-millimeter camera in open class — for adults ­— which she said helped her gain perspective when judging drawing and painting entries.

One of her goals in judging, she said, is trying to bolster children’s confidence.

“Reinforce that they’re doing stuff right and trying to make them feel happy about their entries,” she said.

Some of last Friday’s participants are appreciative of Koop’s feedback.

“She told me what I did wrong, what to improve on and what I did good,” Jacob Cehanovich, 13, of Port Washington who earned blue ribbons on all five of his entries.

Lexi Lasse, a sophomore at Homestead High School who became interested in art after taking a class last year, said she liked “getting feedback from the judges on what I’m going to do better next time.”

Judging continues this week at the fair. 4-H and open class exhibits may be seen in the Boehlke Hardware 4-H Entertainment Expo.

For more information, visit www.ozaukeecountyfair.com.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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