HARRISBURG — When she saw him through the haze of whirling fur and hay dust, all that neighing and mooing and oinking began to sound like an angel’s harp, and the manure took on a more floral tone. Love was blooming at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
He had a dimpled chin and his hair wasn’t so gray, but what Nancy Frey, then MacCauley, saw that day among the livestock decades ago convinced her that Fritz Frey was the one.
“He had really nice steers,” she recalled Tuesday morning.
Pennsylvania is halfway through its 103rd annual Farm Show, with the usual prize rabbits, hog auctions, live calf births, and famous milkshakes that visitors come to expect. But for the farmers and 4-H members who converge from all corners of the state, the weeklong show is also a chance to meet new friends, catch up with old ones, and, yes, even forge a love fierce enough to melt the butter sculpture.
“Well, she was showing sheep and I was showing cattle and we were about that age,” Fritz Frey said. “It was around 1984 and I was 19 and, you know, I figured I’d go check out the girls in the sheep barn.”
Nancy came from the Chester County 4-H Club. Fritz belonged to the 4-H Club in Lancaster County. In the alchemy of agricultural romance, sheep people and cattle folks don’t mix well. Out west, cattlemen referred to sheep as “range maggots,” and a few members of the Frey family may have thrown that insult around.
Still, Fritz was smitten and would help Nancy out with the sheep at the show after tending to the cattle. Mostly, he focused on Nancy, but still learned a few things about sheep.
“Yeah, that I don’t like them,” he said with a laugh. "I guess opposites attract.”
The Farm Show is full of teens on school trips and others who’ve been excused from classes this week to show their livestock. Others come to help their families. Occasionally, they get free time. Farmers, in general, don’t often get to meet other farmers, unless they live close by or bump into one another at the local feed and supply. The Farm Show might not be a real estate convention in sunny Las Vegas, but it’s still a chance to socialize.
“Some of their conversations may focus on agriculture and a review of the past year’s growing season, but it’s also likely that they are talking about the many changes that have occurred over the years at the Farm Show and if their children are now ‘showing’ animals in one of the competitions,” said Mark O’Neill, of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
Jeanette Stackhouse, teen program manager for the Pennsylvania 4-H, said she met her husband at a 4-H camp in Sullivan County. She was from Snyder County. He was from Columbia County. One of her tentmates at camp was in her wedding and vice versa.
“That is pretty common,” Stackhouse, 27, said at the show Tuesday. “It’s a big social circle.”
Joel Rotz, manager of the Farm Bureau’s government affairs and communications division, had his first date at the Farm Show in 1974. Ronda was a square dancer. He tried to keep up.
“We spent the whole time hanging out together that day,” he said. “She had a boyfriend, and by the end of our time, I kind of thought she might be more interested in me. She sent me flowers afterward.”
Joel and Ronda have been married for 41 years and went on to win ribbons for their square-dancing prowess.
“You’ve got to know how to move to the beat. You have a caller that tells you what to do, and when they say do-si-do, you better know how to do-si-do,” he said. “I have fond memories of the square dance.”
Fritz and Nancy, both 51, wed in 1988 at the Upper Octorara Presbyterian Church in Parkesburg, Chester County, and the pews there were split by more than bride and groom.
“They had all the sheep people on their side of the church and we had all the cattle people on ours, just like the old range," said Fritz’s mother, June Frey.
Their daughter, Katrina, met her husband at the Farm Show, too.
The Freys haven’t missed a Farm Show, and their booth, where they sell show supplies, was full of people picking up last-minute items, including combs and halters and a whole assortment of shampoos and conditioners. The couple were in a rush that morning and Fritz said Nancy used the livestock hair spray.
“We never left this world,” he said.
The Freys still raise and sell some cattle, mostly for breeding stock. One burly, young steer with a lush black coat stood in a pen across from them, eating hay. His name was Duramax, and he was sold earlier in the show.
“He’ll be hamburger next week,” Fritz said.
Cindy Johnson, of York, stood in line at Frey’s and recounted how her mother, Marge, and father, Leo, met at the Farm Show over 60 years ago. Marge was on roller skates, her daughter said, and faked that she needed a ride home. Leo gave her one. They own Rutter’s Dairy, which has been open for nearly a century.
“It’s funny how much it happens,” Johnson said. “My daughter needs a boyfriend. Maybe she should come to the Farm Show.”