Westmoreland Fair Queen stars at state level

| Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

At age 8, when Hattie Henderson was already in love with horses, her parents, Carol and Randy Henderson of New Florence, agreed to buy her one of her own — a black bay thoroughbred gelding she named Sebastian.

Having already grown accustomed to riding equines, Henderson, now 18, fondly recalls the countless hours she spent exploring her family's 33-acre property with her favorite one.

“He's going to be 23 at the end of the month,” Henderson said.

Over time, Henderson and her family have surrounded Sebastian with any number of other farm animals, including cows, sheep, goats and chickens, as her interest has grown in caring for them through years spent participating in Westmoreland County 4-H.

“It's a hobby farm, I guess you could say,” Henderson said. “We've raised the livestock, but any income we get goes right back into the animals.”

The hands-on experience Henderson acquired caring for such fauna both at her home and through the county 4-H program helped her to become queen of the 59th Westmoreland Fair held in August at the Westmoreland Fairgrounds in Mt. Pleasant Township.

Recently, she received further recognition with her nomination as one of five finalists statewide for the title of 2014 Pennsylvania State Fair Queen at the Pennsylvania State Association of County Fairs held in Hershey.

Though the distinction ultimately went to Elizabethtown Fair Queen Lia Schmittel, Henderson said she was surprised, pleased and humbled by the nomination.

“There were 58 girls competing, myself included, and they were all very impressive, and they were all very good competition,” Henderson said.

Henderson was the fifth of five finalists announced, and the 57th overall, because the judges addressed contestants in alphabetical order, according to the fair they were chosen to represent.

“When they called my number, it didn't sink in right away.” she said.

The contestants competed in personal interviews where the judges questioned the girls' knowledge of not only their fairs, but also agriculture, then the girls used public speaking skills in both impromptu and prepared speeches.

“I ran into one of the judges afterward, and she said she really enjoyed my speech, and that my communication abilities really set me apart,” Henderson said.

An agricultural leader in the making

The Westmoreland Fair's board of directors expressed great pride in Henderson's accomplishments both at the county and state level as fair queen.

“Hattie has done an awesome, spectacular job as fair queen. The staff and fair directors are extremely proud of her accomplishments at the state level,” said Michelle Long, Westmoreland Fair secretary.

“It says a lot about Hattie, and her ability to convey her message throughout the state and represent the Westmoreland Fair so well,” she said.

Prior to being named the county fair queen, Henderson previously was the 2011 Westmoreland Fair Princess and the 2012 first-runner up in the queen competition.

Henderson is a seven-year member of Laurel Mountain 4-H Horse and Pony Club, Chestnut Ridge 4-H Club, the Westmoreland Squares 4-H square dance team and the Junior Horse Show Committee.

She has held many leadership positions in her 4-H clubs, and is currently the president of Laurel Mountain 4-H Horse and Pony Club.

Henderson has been showing at the Westmoreland Fair for seven years. She exhibits horses, chickens, goats and lambs, as well as several sewing and handcraft projects.

Henderson also shows at the Derry Township Agricultural Fair and the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

Her younger sister, Gracie, 16, a junior at Derry Area, has also gained recognition as state champion with her 2-year-old horse, Trooper, in the 2- to 3-year-old thoroughbred gelding category at the 2013 State 4-H Horse competition.

4-H'er impacts Newtown through project

Like many others, Henderson sat stunned before the television with her mother, Carol, watching news of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

The tragic event, which took place on Dec. 14, 2012, left 20 children and six adult staff members dead at the hands of the shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza.

At the time, Henderson was considering ways to complete her 4-H Diamond Award project when she learned something about one of the victims, 6-year-old Jessica Rekos, that hit home.

Like Henderson did as a little girl, Jessica loved horses, and she read every horse book she could get her hands on.

Inspired by her story, Henderson made her project one called “Books for Jessica,” through which she has collected roughly 700 new and used children's books about horses and other farm animals to donate in Jessica's memory to Westmoreland County children's organizations.

Michelle Brant, the Westmoreland County Children's Bureau's case work supervisor and collector of all charitable donations to the Greensburg-based agency, accepted 450 of those books from Henderson for children who are aided there.

“She's really reaching a lot of children and families with this project,” Brant said. “It's nice to see someone so young really dedicated to community service.”

E. Patricia Llodra, First Selectman of Newtown, also praised Henderson for her work.

“Jessica was known for her love of horses, and was an avid reader, as well. She would be pleased and proud to have (Hattie) celebrate her in this way, especially in sharing these books with other children,” Llodra said. “As a community we are honored by recognition of the specialness of our lost Sandy Hook first-graders. Hattie is helping us spread the word through acts of kindness and generosity.”

Student views future with ambition

As a sophomore at Penn State University, Henderson is pursuing a double major in animal sciences and agribusiness management, and minors in equine science and poultry science.

She is a 2012 graduate of Achievement House Charter School, where she maintained a 4.17 GPA and graduated as valedictorian.

Looking ahead, Henderson said she envisions doing what is necessary to one day become the state's secretary of agriculture.

Her mother thinks such a goal is possible for Henderson to achieve.

“I keep teasing her, when you go to the farm show complex, you see the big pictures of Gov. Tom Corbett and state Agriculture Secretary George Greig, and I say see that, some day ... that's going to be you,” Carol Henderson said.

A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or apanian@tribweb.com.

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