By, Rhonda McCurry
At a young age, Adam Heffelfinger lost his dad to cancer. The two of them had spent many hours in the show barn together, feeding sheep, lambing ewes and preparing for shows. His dad taught him about caring for show animals and fueled his drive and passion for competition. When his dad passed away, Heffelfinger says it was one of the hardest days of his life.
Then a young man named Justin came into Heffellfinger’s path. Their families were friends and like Adam, Justin liked to show lambs. Justin lost his own father at the same young age as Adam’s and the two of them began working together with Adam mentoring Justin’s sheep project. What Heffelfinger didn’t realize until the Ohio State Fair this fall was the role being a mentor would mean to him.
“Usually a son learns from his dad what to feed and what do to,” Heffelfinger says. “Justin and his dad were close and when he lost him Justin asked me for help to continue to get more involved in the sheep industry. I’d like to think I’ve helped him not only with showmanship and feeding but that being able to show also prepares him for life.”
Mentoring this young person with showmanship and feeding lessons paid off when Justin won a prestigious award this fall. At this year’s Ohio State Fair, Justin won the Reserve Junior Sheep Showman title. At the fair, each major show banner bears a memorial name and the Reserve Junior Sheep Showman banner was in memory of Dave Howell. The special moment came when Justin was presented with this banner in memory of his late father. Watching Justin earn this award was special, Heffelfinger says.
“It was a big deal for Justin and for all those standing around the ring, to see him presented with this banner,” Heffelfinger says. “Having a memorial banner for your dad is not something you dream of but this was special because he earned it.”
Growing up, Heffelfinger showed all species of livestock at jackpots, fairs and the North American International Livestock Exposition. He says going to livestock shows, even after his own father passed away, meant seeing his friends from across the country. He also says it built his competitive spirit and now, as a junior in college, he serves on the Western Illinois University Livestock Judging Team.
Heffelfinger has worked with other young people too on their show lamb projects because he is thankful for the mentors he had growing up in the show world. He credits Mike Stitzlien as a mentor who taught him to feed, care for and show his sheep. His constant mentor has been his family, including his older sister, Heather, whom he learned from every day in their show barn. Heffelfinger also had the opportunity to be a shepherd for Sloan Club Lambs, going to the farm after school and lambing ewes he say, was the ultimate experience.
“I always feel you can never learn too much,” he says. “I definitely am thankful for family and the opportunities I have in my life. My life is the sheep industry and I’m living a dream to be able to help Justin and find sheep and mentor him along the way. Just enjoy being able to go out and look at their sheep with keeps me connected in the show world.”
Mentoring Justin has been extra special because Heffelfinger says the young man works hard with his show lambs. Heffelfinger says he enjoys spending time with Justin in the barn at home as much as at the show. They share a special bond with their love of the sheep show world and as young people who overcame the loss of their fathers. Heffelfinger is quick to credit his mentors as guides who helped him accomplish his dreams. That is what he wants to do in return.
“There is no way I would be successful without learning from important people in the industry and from my family,” he says. “I am thankful to have the opportunity to help kids gain knowledge about sheep industry and the livestock industry in general. No one knows everything in the show world so it helps to learn from people with experience. The more kids ask for help the more successful they can be.”