This history of the Festival was written at the time of the Festival’s 25th Anniversary.
History of the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival
by David L. Greene
Extension Agent, Agriculture Science, Carroll County
The most important aspect in writing a history is to be as accurate as possible. Fortunately, I have a wife who is well organized and keeps good files. Nancy doesn’t just keep any thing in her files, she only keeps the important “stuff”. When I told her I was asked to write a history of the Festival she immediately went to her files, pulled out Festival catalogs and two issues of the Maryland Sheep News. One was the January 1974 issue announcing the first Festival and the second issue was the July 1974 issue which announced the results of the first Festival. The rest of the history of the Festival is pretty well documented in the catalogs which were begun with the 2nd Festival. The majority of this work will focus on the early years.
The Early Years
The first “Sheep and Wool Crafts Festival” was planned for April 26 and 27, 1974 at the Carroll County Fairgrounds. Following is the announcement that appeared in the January 1974 MSBA Sheep News.
“MARYLAND SHEEPMEN TO SPONSOR A SHEEP AND WOOL CRAFTS FESTIVAL:
Pray for glorious springtime weather and a let-up in the gas shortage for Friday, April 26 and Saturday, April 27, 1974. These are the days that the Maryland Sheep Breeders have reserved the Carroll County Fairgrounds for an all new project — a Sheep and Wool Crafts Festival.
Janet Sorrels, who for several years has been in charge of wool products sales for the Association, has accepted the chairmanship of this event. We feel that it has enormous potential for public education, entertainment, and hopefully just a little profit for MSB as well.
We plan to present demonstrations on grooming sheep for show, as well as on shearing, sorting and grading wool and packing it for shipment as is done at the Wool Pool. We will invite local craftsmen to give demonstrations of various methods of spinning, weaving, and related handcrafts. These craftsmen will also have displays of handcrafted articles for sale. Sheep skins and other sheep and wool items will also be sold. Lunch, lamb, of course, will be available on the grounds. There will be educational exhibits of sheep representative of the most prosperous breeds in the State, as well as some exotics and baby lambs.
The idea of having Friday as one of the Festival Days, was so that we could invite groups of school children to see and touch real sheep and observe the transformation of fleece to fabric. The Carroll County Fairgrounds was chosen for the site because of its attractive facilities and for its proximity to the Carroll County Farm Museum, which we hope will help to boost attendance. The Maryland Wool Queen Contest will be held early during the Festival, so that the events may be enhanced by the presence of the Queen and her Court. We hope that our Queen and princesses will not only be beautiful to look at, but also knowledgeable about sheep and wool, and capable of doing a really great public relations job for the Association and the sheep industry.
A public sale of premium quality fleeces for hand spinning will also be one of the highlights of the Festival. It was felt that this would be a better place for the sale of these fleeces, than at the Wool Pool, as has previously been the case. This buying and selling at the Wool Pool has tended to disrupt the regular business. It is also not precisely legal; since technically the buying company has contracted to buy all the wool brought into the Pool. The Board of Directors feels that a better price can be gotten for the fleeces for hand spinning if they are brought into a central place at specified time and can be displayed in an attractive manner.”
The original goals of the Festival, as indicated in the preceding quote, were to educate the public, provide entertainment, and hopefully raise a little money for the association to operate on. It is interesting to note that the first festival had hand-made craft booths, and educational exhibits of various breeds of sheep. A Friday and Saturday event was planned to attract school children and teach them how wool is harvested and made into yarn or fabric. Also, the January 1974 Maryland Sheep News contained a page asking for people to serve on the “Festival Committee” and urging people to consign good quality fleeces and hand made woolen items.
Dr. Emory C. Leffel, a Hampshire breeder and professor of Animal Science at the University of Maryland, was president of MSBA at the time of the initial festival. Other officers included Vice President – Frank Sorrels, Secretary – Elizabeth Grey, and Treasurer – Charlotte Gardner. Members of the Board who inaugurated the first festival were John Frock, Robert Meunier, Maxine Beall, Thomas Mullinix, Jr., Louis Naecker, Charles Clarke, Harvey Miller, Herman Dunker, John Archer, Larry Hevner, Edward Mechling, James Tillman. Sharon Ramsburg (Smith) of West Friendship was Lamb and Wool Queen prior to the festival.
So what happened at the First Maryland Sheep Breeders Association Sheep and Wool Crafts Festival? As is noted in the following article that appeared in July 1974 MSBA Sheep News, the festival was held only one day and was moved to May 11th.
“WOOL FESTIVAL A SMASHING SUCCESS:
As you may have noticed in recent issues of The Shepherd, The Pennsylvania Farmer, The Cooperative Farmer and various newspapers, including the Wool and Lamb Promotion News, published by the American Sheep Producers Council, black was beautiful at the American Sheep Breeders Sheep and Wool Crafts Festival, held May 11 at the Carroll County Ag Center, Westminster. Mobs of hand spinners snapped 542 pounds of raw wool at an average price of $1.44 for a total receipt of $778.95. Buyers numbered 47 from six different states. Black wool sold up to $2.75 a pound, and much, much more could have been sold had it been available. The highly successful wool sale was organized by David Greene, who was assisted by Jean Yeakel and Rachel Taggart, both of Carroll County. Grading was conducted by Dr. Emory Leffel. An interested crowd, estimated at more than 1500 persons, was enthralled by the varied spinning and weaving demonstrations organized by Rae Nicholson, Baltimore County.
Spinners were: Arlene Bayard, Jean Sutton, Lois Derouin, Vera Kaminski, 4-H’er Amy Hopkins, Abby Fowler, Mary Frye and Jean Neels. Rita Mosley, Keith Smith, Bill Derouin, Bessie Holtman, Mike Myerhoff, Sandy Myerhoff and Elizabeth Hockberg, were the weavers. Dyeing was also demonstrated, while a Baltimore area weaving shop presented an attractive display of equipment and materials. Other exhibits included hand-hooked rugs and wall hangings by Ellen Femiano, of Howard County, beguiling hand puppets by Susan Petro, and the process for home tanning of sheep skins by Carroll County 4-H’er, George Taggart. Judy Lynch, Mrs. Harvey Thompson and Joyce Klein manned the Wool Products Booth, which sold a total of $288.50, for an Association profit of $62.50. Lamb barbecue for the food stand was prepared by Florence Hall, who also supplied the ground lamb from her Cheviot and Western flock. The Sorrels family, Frank, Debbie, Vivian, Frank Jr. and John, gallantly manned the food booth and dispensed hundreds of barbecues, cokes and pizzas all day.
The 1974 Lamb and Wool Queen Contest was the most elaborate to date. Five lovely and well-informed contestants, Emily Leffel, Montgomery, Julie Pfefferkorn, Howard, Vivian Sorrels, Howard, Nancy Mayne, Montgomery, and Mary Sue Kopp, Baltimore, were introduced by suave Master of Ceremonies, Jack Matthews, Executive Secretary, MD Farm Bureau, and quizzed by Judges Dorothy amison, commercial breeder and high school math teacher, Milt Nelson, Univ. of Md. Extension Press Editor, and Richard Biglin, Executive Director of the American Sheep Producers Council, who flew in from Colorado for the event. Mary Sue Kopp, 17, of Reisterstown, and a Baltimore County 4-H member, was selected Queen. Mary Sue graduated this June from high school and plans to study horticulture at the University of Maryland next fall. She raises Suffolk sheep on her parents’ 6-acre farm. Two Wool Princesses were also selected to represent the Queen when her schedule becomes too hectic. They were Vivian Sorrels of Mount Airy and Nancy Mayne of Laytonsville. Both are 15-year old 4-H’ers with sheep projects. They received a $50 Savings Bond from MSBA, a $20 gift certificate from the Clearbrook Woolen Mills of Clearbrook, Va., and other small gifts. The Princesses and runners-up also received savings bonds and gifts. Chairman for the event was Mrs. Harvey Miller, Damascus. Flowers were donated by Floral Arts of Gaithersburg, English’s of Spring Valley Farm, Runkles Road, Damascus, and the Bo-Kay Shop of Olney.
The Westminster Fire Department, with spokesmen Joyce Klein and Janet Sorrels, are to be applauded for their graphic demonstration of wool’s potentially life-saving flame-suppressing qualities. The Fire Department has promised to return next year and man an educational booth.
Many thanks, and a hearty recommendation go to the Arctic-Aire Locker Plant of Frederick, S. Wisner St., 633-3232, for their expert slaughter and cutting service which they rendered free of charge on Mr. John Frock’s excellent young Hampshire lamb. The lamb weighed 95 pounds live, with a carcass weight of 54 pounds, for a dressing percent of 53.7. It graded prime. The lamb was displayed in a meat case during the Festival and was later awarded to R. W. Potts, 2103 Long Corner Road, Mt. Airy, for his first prize winning raffle ticket #50. Second prize in the raffle, a sheep skin, went to Bill Eisenburg, 1600 Exeter Road, Westminster, for his winning ticket #220.
The live sheep exhibits were managed by Russ Clarke, Uniontown, who also brought some good Hampshire sheep for display. The University of Maryland exhibited Finn cross lambs, while Conrad Gall, Taneytown, showed a Merino ewe and crossbred lamb, the Walter Keller family, also of Taneytown, Suffolks, Rae Nicholson, Corriedales, Mrs. Ed Beall, Dorsets and Shropshires, the Meunier family of Thurmont, Cheviots, Sorrels family of Mt. Airy, Shropshires and black sheep, and Warn Menhennet, RD 1, Cochranville, Pa., 19330, Clun Forest Sheep.
Larry Hevner, Keymar, a custom shearer, conducted continuous shearing demonstrations down at the sheep barn. The ewes sheared were all good Hamps owned by Jack Price, Westminster. Another big hit was David Greene’s shearing demonstration with an antique shearing machine also owned by Jack. Power (hand turned) was provided by Richard Taggart.
James Shearer, Hershey Mill Road, Columbia, Pa 17512, worked his dogs with a couple of Jack’s ewes before a fascinated audience. This was in the way of being a warm-up for the International Sheep Dog Trials which were held at Fair Hill, Md. later in May. Mr. Shearer sells Border Collie pups, started dogs and trained dogs of excellent quality. We thank him for giving his Saturday to help promote the sheep industry.
Don Klein, Ellicott City, President of the Howard County Sheep Breeders Association acted as MC of the evening show, which consisted of a ladies’ lead style revue and a decorated lamb class. Baltimore County 4-H’ers carried the show off single-handed. Stephanie Sprecher, Linda Cockey and Norma Sprecher were elegant in the Ladies Lead, while Stephanie Sprecher, Darlene Sprecher and Lisa Gutberlet showed imaginatively decorated lambs, much to the audience=s delight. These kids, with help from Vance D. Kopp, III, and Asa and Heather Worthley, helped out in every way imaginable all day long. It was a really great demonstration of the 4-H spirit and the enthusiasm for sheep that exists today in Baltimore County.
Thanks also are in order to Milt Nelson, U. Of Md. Extension Press Editor, who was instrumental in bringing our Festival to the attention of Bert Lund at the Shepherd and Richard Biglin of the American Sheep Producers’s Council. Mr. Nelson grew up with a small flock of grade Hampshire sheep on an Iowa farm, and once had a champion pen of Western lambs at a north-west Iowa district 4-H show. At present he lives in Columbia in Howard County.
All in all, May 11th was a good day for the sheep and wool industry, and one which we hope to repeat and expand upon next year. Plan now to participate.”
In 1974, the annual Spring Lamb Show was held June 8th at the University of Maryland farm in Ellicott City. It was not until the third Festival that the Spring Lamb Show was joined with the Festival. At the third Festival, a Club Lamb or Feeder Lamb Show and Sale was initiated to augment the Spring Lamb Show.
The Second Sheep and Wool Crafts Festival began the tradition of a two-day event, although the days were Friday and Saturday. Friday was chosen to allow the opportunity for school groups to attend, a project that did not get completed at the first Festival. The Festival went to a Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule in 1976 and has remained pretty much the same to this day.
Sheep Dog Demonstrations were a part of the first Festival–but noticeably absent from the third. The 6th Festival in 1979 has them on the schedule again. Norlaine Shultz directed the working dog demonstrations after the first few Festivals were held. Jack Price began his very successful tour of duty in 1987 and gave up the reins just a couple of years ago.
Breeding sheep were first shown at the 1979 Festival and a Natural Colored Sheep Show and a White Wool Sheep Show are listed in the 1982 Festival catalog. The first Breed Show coordinator was Jay Arnold who did it for two years, followed by Randy Irwin for one, then Michelle Reilly.
The Sheep and Wool Crafts Festival as it was originally called, was first located at the Carroll County Agriculture Center. After six years, the Festival had grown to the point that the Festival was moved to the Howard County Fairgrounds. The first Festival there was the 1980 Festival. It has been held there ever since, although about ten years ago, several people investigated moving it again to either the Maryland State Fairgrounds or to the Frederick Fairgrounds. This, of course, did not happen.
In 1981, MSBA invited the MD Pork Producers to have their feeder pig show and sale at the Festival. This only lasted one year.
As was mentioned previously, the first Festival chairman was Janet Sorrells. She was followed by Rae Nicholson, Charlotte Gardner, then Mary Streaker and currently the position is held by Gwen Handler.
At an ASI Meeting in Denver in 1992, Mary Streaker was asked to describe the success and growth of the Maryland Festival. She noted:
This past May second and third (1992) was the 19th Annual Festival. In the beginning the festival was primarily an auction; a way to get the fleeces sold and while there were some craft sales and a feeder lamb sale, the event grew slowly. After five or so years our annual event included 25 craft booths, a show of natural colored sheep and represented farms in Maryland for the most part from the four counties surrounding Howard County, which lies between Frederick and Baltimore, MD. Twelve years ago we had between five and eight thousand visitors attend our Festival.
Last May (1992) there were 225 craft and supply vendor booths, the breed display contained thirty breeds, with a national show of the Jacobs as well as competitive showing of many other breeds. Sheep breeders from all over the United States and Canada were participating in all Festival events and activities. Our visitor attendance was estimated at over 40,000 people in two days.”
The twelve year growth Mary described was phenomenal. Taken over the 25 year history of the Festival the growth is even more phenomenal. At the first Festival the attendance was estimated to be around 1500 for the one day event. Over 50,000 was the estimate for the 24th Festival in 1997.
It is difficult to ascertain exactly when various activities began at the Festival, other than those mentioned so far. The Carcass Contest which began in 1982 was a natural outgrowth of the Spring Lamb Show. It is interesting to note that in a 1975 Maryland Sheep Newsletter letter to the editor, Conrad Gall recommended having a Carcass Contest instead of just a live market lamb show.
The Sheep Shearing Contest began in 1980 with Jim and Bambi Prigel in charge. They were followed by a host of characters including Stuart Greene, George Pasley, and David DeLameter. Of course shearing demonstrations were a part of the Festival from the very beginning. Larry Hevner was the first to accept the job. He was followed by George Pasley and Cindy Soth plus some British fellows filled in when they weren’t in the shearing contest.
Many other activities conducted at the Festival have a long history. Lamb promotion has been an integral part of the Festival from the very beginning. Since moving to Howard County, Nancy Greene has had the responsibility of the lamb promotion building and getting vendors in the building to sell products associated with lamb and sheep milk products. Donna Spangler, Dianne McLean, Edith Miller, Florence Hall and others have worked on the promotion and education areas of the Festival.
The Sheep to Shawl Contest has been a mainstay of the Festival from the very beginning. The 5th Festival catalog mentions a Sheep to Shawl Contest coordinated by Jean Woodward – so this event has been a part of the Festival for around 20 years.
Other activities such as: Junior Spinning, Fine Arts Contest, 4-H Poster Contest, and Sheep Photo Contest were not part of the first few Festivals, but have been introduced to add variety and breadth.
A Fashion Show began in 1980 and went through the 1993 Festival. For several years, entries from the Maryland Make It With Wool contest were modeled at the Festival. It was first started under the direction of Norlaine Shultz followed by Mabelle Reilly, Linda Wilson, Linda Stork, Margo Johnson and Barbara Mullen. Annette Fleischell coordinated for the longest period of time.
The Shepherds Lead has been a feature of the Festival since 1976. This contest has helped involve young people in the Festival along with such activities as Judging Contests, Junior Spinning, 4-H Poster Contest and Feeder Lamb Show and Sale. It is interesting to note that a square dance was held only once, at the second Festival.
Educational seminars, demonstrations, or speakers first appeared in Festival catalogs in 1986 although demonstrations have been a part of the Festival since the very beginning. The very first demonstrations, as mentioned in the July 1974 MSBA Sheep News, was the wool flammability demo with the Westminster Fire Department and the sheep shearing demonstration. Beginning in 1986, formal talks became a major part of the Festival to the point where the 24th Festival (1997) had over 16 different seminars and lectures.
The Saturday dinners started as a consignor get-together in 1985. It evolved into a Shepherd’s Roundup Dinner in 1987 for everyone (by reservation only) which is still in effect today.
Shirt sales and other promotional items have been an important part of the Festival since at least 1985. They have always been associated with the educational tent and have always been one of the most important advertising mechanisms for the Festival. Go to any major sheep event today, and you will see someone wearing a hat, t-shirt, sweat shirt, etc. with the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival logo on it.
During the last twelve years, the new designs that graced the catalog cover and promotional items sold at the Festival have made our event very special. Gwen Handler became acquainted with David Ashton when she sold him some Cotswold sheep in 1985. He agreed to design a poster and has been doing so ever since. The gift of his designs each year has helped our Festival to be nationally recognized and promoted. The work of David Ashton and Co., LTD can also be seen at the Baltimore Oriole and Raven stadiums. We are proud he has shared his talent with the Festival.
The items provided to visitors in the information and educational tent have been important for many new and practicing shepherds. Literally tons of books, posters, pamphlets, fact sheets, mimeos on sheep and wool products have been distributed through the Festival education exhibit.
Other than sheep shows, demonstrations, fleece sales and lamb promotion, crafts and craft vendors have been on the scene since the first Festival in 1974. As Mary stated in her report to ASI, craft vendors have grown from just a couple to over 275 different vendors registered for the 25th Festival. For most of the 25 years these vendors have included businesses who sell sheep feed, health and management products to sheep producers. The increase in commercial vendors is a testimony to the large number of sheep producers from all over the United States who attend the Festival each year. Although the Festival attracts mostly non-sheep people, a large number of visitors who attend each year either want to raise or are currently raising sheep. Many people return year after year because of the different vendors, exhibits, and seminars presented at the Festival.
In summarizing the history of the Sheep & Wool Festival, two important traditions stand out. First, the Festival has been continually conducted for one purpose and one purpose only–the promotion of lamb and wool and the education of sheep producers and the general public about sheep and sheep products. In an article written by Florence Hall about Ernie she notes, ”It must be pointed out that he kept in mind, and always cautioned the committee, that our agricultural focus (at the Festival) was paramount and absolutely essential in order to keep the state agricultural fair board as a major contributor of funds. Sheep are the most important ingredient, for there are many, many craft shows. He was just as adamant in stiff-arming those who wanted to charge admission. His philosophy was that MSBA, as a non-profit corporation, should provide a showcase of animals and sheep related products for families to enjoy at no cost. Consumer education was important to him.”
The second important unique feature of the Maryland Festival is the tremendous number of people who have donated countless hours toward the success of this event. When I began writing this history and started putting in people’s names, it wasn’t long before I realized that there were just so many and I would leave out names of people who have made generous contributions of their time and energy, for that I apologize.
The 25 year success of the Festival is a result of one thing only—-the hundreds of dedicated volunteers who love sheep and wool crafts and who were and are willing to devote their time and energies to making the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival the premier event of its kind in the U.S. Above all, they are the advisers and motivators for the excellence that is known nationwide as the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival.