Mary Vaughan takes a break from her Livingston County Agricultural Fair and 4-H Show duties to visit with a trio of Forrest Fireflies 4-H Club members who also happen to be related to her. Vaughan, who is in her 40th year as Fireflies leader, is the great-aunt of Ellie (from left), Jackson and Jacob Zapp. Vaughan stepped down after 26 years on the Livingston County Agricultural Fair Association after last week’s fair in Pontiac, Ill., and will continue leading the Forrest club.
Mary Vaughan takes a break from her Livingston County Agricultural Fair and 4-H Show duties to visit with a trio of Forrest Fireflies 4-H Club members who also happen to be related to her. Vaughan, who is in her 40th year as Fireflies leader, is the great-aunt of Ellie (from left), Jackson and Jacob Zapp. Vaughan stepped down after 26 years on the Livingston County Agricultural Fair Association after last week’s fair in Pontiac, Ill., and will continue leading the Forrest club.
PONTIAC, Ill. — Mary Vaughan was just a few years removed from being a 4-H member herself when she got an offer she couldn’t refuse.

“There was a lady in town and she came to me, I was 23 years old, and said, ‘We have eight girls in Forrest who belong to the Pleasant Ridge 4-H Club and if we have that many I think we should have a club of our own and you should be the leader because you don’t have anything else to do,’” Vaughan said. “I love to tell that story.”

She started the Forrest Ladybugs 4-H Club. When boys wanted to join, the club was renamed the Forrest Fireflies, a group still soaring with more than 50 members under her leadership 40 years later.

The Forrest resident was working in the office at the recent Livingston County Agricultural Fair and 4-H Show, making announcements on the fairground intercom, collecting fair king and queen ballots, answering questions and performing countless other duties while enjoying every minute of it.

Retiring Director

Vaughan added to her 4-H duties 26 years ago as a director of the Livingston County Agricultural Fair Association, one cap she removed at the end of this year’s fair.

“The fair board meetings are just too much. I live in Forrest, and I work in Pontiac. That’s probably one of the reasons I stayed on as long as I did because I’m in town. But the meetings go until 10 at night, and then I have to drive home to Forrest; that makes for a long day,” she said.

“Plus, I can’t move garbage cans and clean stalls and stuff like that. I just felt like I wanted to step down and focus more time on just being a 4-H leader.”

“She will be a big loss to our board. She’s a big contributor to the grounds-keeping, and she does the Ag Olympics, which I think she’s going to keep doing,” said Rick Tucker of Odell, fair association president.

“Also, I’ve been on with her for 12 years, and on work days, she’s always been in charge of the food, so we’ll also miss her on that part of it, too. She’s been real good to everybody on the board, and it will be a loss with her not on the board.”

One of her many jobs included grounds and beautification.

“Every flower that I have in my yard at home is over here this week because I’m here so I can take care of them here,” Vaughan said. “This year, the master gardeners helped me out, and we did the area around the gate. That’s one thing that I can do, but there always comes a time when you need to stop.”

While she won’t need to attend all those late-night meetings and be a part of those countless hours of behind-the-scenes work the directors do throughout the year in preparation for the fair, she’ll continue to be a regular at the annual gathering in her role as club leader.

“I don’t think much is going to change other than the fact that I’m probably not going to be working in the office, but yet I told the guys that if they need help I’m always available. I just won’t be here every day, and I’m probably going to miss that, but it’s fine to step down,” she said.

State Honors

Vaughan’s dedication to 4-H was recognized with accolades from her peers over the past two years.

She was inducted into the Illinois 4-H Hall of Fame last year, and earlier this year she was among the recipients of the Friend of Illinois County Fairs by the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs.

She quickly deflects the honors.

“I’ve had some great recognition in the last couple of years, but it’s not about that — it’s about the kids. That’s my ultimate joy,” Vaughan said. “I love 4-H, and I get as much enjoyment out of watching my ‘kids.’

“I have a great club, I have 53 kids and I have wonderful parents that are always there to help us out. I get as much enjoyment there as I do the fair, but then the fair is the ultimate thing.”

The 4-H motto is, “To make the best better.” Vaughan has and continues to do that after 40 years.