- Associated Press - Friday, August 14, 2015

MASON, Mich. (AP) - Steven Harkness put in a lot of work raising the pig he sold at the Ingham County Fair, but he didn’t pocket the money.

Instead, the Leslie 17-year-old gave it to a scholarship fund set up by a Marine killed nine years ago in Iraq, according to the Lansing State Journal (http://on.lsj.com/1WivUVt ).

The Troy D. Nealey Memorial Award provides scholarship money each year to winners of the fair’s livestock showmanship competitions.

“I thought it was important because he did this before he went to war,” Steven said Tuesday during a break from football practice at Leslie High School. “He set up a fund for kids for showmanship and I heard it was going to run out.

“I don’t want it to run out.”

Not too long ago, Nealey was a lot like Steven, an active 4-H’er who participated in Ingham County Fair competitions. When he got older, he joined the Marine Corps and served in Iraq.

“He had spoken to his mother before going over,” said Sandra Dargatz, the fair’s executive director. “He said, if anything happened to him, he wanted to use his life insurance for the Troy Nealey award here at the fairgrounds.”

Nealey, of Eaton Rapids, was killed Oct. 29, 2006, in Fallujah, Iraq. He was 24.

The award came to be. For the past 10 years, gifts of $500, $300 and $200 have been given in the areas of sheep, beef and swine showmanship.

That’s $3,000 in prizes each year. Nealey’s mother, Annette Gee, comes to the fair from Florida every year to present the money, a plaque and an embroidered director’s chair to each winner, Dargatz said.

Steven himself won prizes in 2011 and 2014.

But the money was running out, and last week Gee confided to Kim Harkness, Steven’s mother, that 2016 would be the award’s final year.

“She was very sad about it,” said Harkness, whose family has been active in 4-H for 11 years.

Her family talked it over, and Steven resolved to donate the sale money from his pig to Nealey’s fund

“We decided that it was so important to Troy that he set up a fund to reward kids for working so hard,” Harkness said Tuesday. “We can’t let that go away.”

She said hogs normally are auctioned off for $2.50 to $3.50 a pound, but after Steven’s intention was announced at the auction, his went for $6.75 a pound.

That was $1,667 for the entire animal, Harkness said.

“I was stunned,” Steven said. “It was way more than what I had expected. That was just great”

Dr. Tricia Brown, a Sparrow Hospital emergency room physician and a “4-H mom,” was there. Her kids were selling lambs.

“I’m not even in their club,” Brown said, “but what this kid did was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen a kid do.”

Harkness said she was “extremely proud” of her son and his consideration toward others.

“We never knew Troy, but, if it’s that important for Troy, it’s got to be important to all of us,” she said the fund. “We have to keep it going.”

Others at the auction agreed, making their own donations to the fund. Harkness didn’t have a final figure Tuesday, but she expected the number to grow. She and other 4-H’ers are creating a committee to see that it does just that “for years to come.”

“Obviously it’s indicative of the youth in this county and their activism,” Dargatz said of Steven’s gesture. “We have kids in these programs that are learning to become young adults, and, through that, they are learning selflessness.”

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Information from: Lansing State Journal, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com

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