XENIA — The Greene County Fair brought Ben Williamson back home. He grew up in Cedarville, and for 11 years he showed at the fair. He’s since grown up and moved away, but he’s kept the same spirit alive in his work.
Today, years later, he’s on the other side of the evaluating: He’s a professional judge assessing several cattle shows at the fair. His credentials are impressive: He’s also an instructor of animal science and coach of the livestock judging team at Penn State.
It doesn’t take long to see that he’s a true professional at this. An equal mix of intensity and relatability, he’s decisive, confident and knowledgeable in the arena, and those he’s judging seem to appreciate that. In fact, after Williamson is finished for the morning, he’s regularly stopped by those he just judged for a handshake or a word of thanks.
Even with four years of professional judging expertise under his belt, the experience for him wasn’t the breeze you might expect it to be, judging by how confident he seems in the arena. It’s not hard to understand why he might be a little nervous though. After all, he was working in front of the hometown crowd.
“It’s kind of scary, and it’s kind of a humbling experience all in the same breath,” he said. “I’d be lying to say it wasn’t a little nerve wracking. It’s fun to be back, and it’s a lot different on the other side of the fence.”
“He’s a homegrown fella, you know,” Williamson’s grandfather, Dean Gordin, said in introduction. “His grandmother and I said years ago, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat someday if Ben came back to judge?’ ”
He did just that.
When he’s in the arena doing his thing, Williamson is judging both competitor and animal. On Thursday he was judging a market cattle show, so he was looking for the “ideal in both the feed lot and the pasture industry.”
As for the competitor, he’s looking for someone who is confident, cool, collected and knowledgeable.
“This is part of an exercise that develops the next leaders in our industry, and I want somebody that’s current and knowledgeable about what they’re doing,” he said. He knows just what he wants.
Despite the fact that he’s moved away to a professional career in the agriculture industry, he hasn’t forgotten his roots. He still describes himself as “just another farm boy from Ohio.”
“I learned a lot from a lot of people around this barn,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that taught me and encouraged me and were a big part of where I am today. It takes a village.”
Now he’s giving back in a similar way, playing a role in the development of the next generation of agriculture leaders.
“I enjoy livestock – I enjoy kids,” he said. “It’s always really fun to watch … these kids as they grow. To think that I had a piece of helping them get to a place where they’re part of the industry and doing something they’re passionate about, that’s what keeps me going.”
Nathan Pilling is a reporter who covers Greene County organizations and agencies. He can be found on Twitter at @natepilling.