Wooster woman serves as ‘mom’ to Arkansas State Fair Ambassadors

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Published November 17, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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Courtesy of Jason Burt/ARKANSAS STATE FAIR

Jennifer Cook of Wooster is the ambassador coordinator at the Arkansas State Fair. She assumes a “motherly” role for up to 75 students who serve the fair in a variety of roles, including assisting with livestock shows appearing on television and refilling hand-sanitizers on the fairgrounds.

WOOSTER — When Jennifer Cook is at home in Wooster, she is the mother of three boys — Andrew, 17; Austin, 14; and Adam, 11. But for 10 days in October, she is at home at the Arkansas State Fair in Little Rock, serving in the role of “mother” to 70 junior and senior ambassadors.

Cook is the ambassador coordinator at the state fair.

In order to serve as an Arkansas State Fair Ambassador, a student must be 14 or older and a member of Arkansas 4-H or FFA. Ambassadors contribute a minimum of 25 hours of Arkansas State Fair Association service work annually, with at least 15 hours to be worked at the state fair.

“This is a leadership program,” Cook said during a visit with her at this year’s fair. “The ambassadors help in all areas of the state fair. They are assigned to different livestock shows and other events at the fair. They even have to fill up the hand sanitizers.

“Ninety percent of these kids are hardworking kids. They are responsible. They show up on time for their duties or send me notice if they cannot work at that time. But there are a few who don’t take responsibility, and they will not be asked to come back next year.”

Cook, who raises Polled Hereford cattle with her husband, Bryan, said, “Some of these kids are like Old MacDonald, raising cattle and pigs on a farm. They have been exposed to the farm all of their lives. Others are city kids and have rabbits or other small animals, but they are just as hardworking as the kids who are raised on farms.”

The ambassadors also serve members of the public who come to the state fair each year. One of the major responsibilities of the ambassadors is to conduct “Ag in Action” educational tours during the fair.

“We need to teach our kids where our food comes from,” Cook said. “You can take away our computers, our cars, but we’ve got to eat.

“These kids are good advocates for agriculture because they live on farms. Some who are asked to be up and here by 5 a.m. for a television interview say, ‘It ain’t no different than what I do at home.’”

Cook said the ambassadors contributed more than 1,000 hours of service at this year’s state fair.

She said the ambassador program is a scholarship program.

“These kids have to be recommended by a 4-H or vocational/agricultural leader,” she said. “They must demonstrate good communication, leadership and organizational skills.”

Cook said up to 15 students in the program are appointed “senior” ambassadors; the remaining students in the program are called “junior” ambassadors. To qualify as a senior ambassador, a student must have been a junior ambassador for one year and have performed a minimum of 50 hours of service during the previous year.

Senior ambassadors are eligible for $250 scholarships at the end of the year of his or her duties.

Cook said no more than 75 students will be selected each year for the ambassador program.

In addition to working during the state fair, including the Sale of Champions held on the last Friday of the fair, ambassadors are also required to assist with the spring livestock show, the Purple Circle banquet following the state fair, the Arkansas State Fair Association’s annual meeting and the Pizza Ranch, an educational event during which kids learn about everything that goes into making a pizza.

The ambassadors wear purple shirts so they can be easily identified.

There is no cost to apply to the ambassador program, and students can stay at a dormitory on the fairgrounds.

More information on the Arkansas State Fair Ambassador Program can be found at www.arkansasstatefair.com.

Cook, who is from Lake City, seems a natural for her new job as ambassador coordinator at the Arkansas State Fair. She was involved in FFA in high school and was the first female to be elected as state FFA president in 1987-88.

“I was shocked that I won,” Cook said. “That changed my life more than anything except my relationship with my Lord.

“My high school ag teacher saw something in me that no one else did. He made me give a speech, and he made me apply as a candidate for state president.

“I grew up in a single-parent family that was on food stamps. That’s just part of my life, part of who I am. It just goes to prove that if you want something bad enough and work hard enough for it, you can do it.”

Cook is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where she earned a degree in agriculture education. She taught at Fourche Valley High School in Yell County and managed a pig farm for Cargill Pork before starting the cattle operation with her husband, who is also a graduate of the U of A and now works for Stephens Inc. in Conway. The Cooks are active at Second Baptist Church in Conway.

The Cooks’ sons, who attend school in Greenbrier, are involved in agriculture as well. Andrew is a State 4-H Ambassador and president of the Cloverleaf 4-H Club. Austin is the junior adviser for Greenbrier Junior High School and a member of the Cloverleaf 4-H Club; he also serves the Arkansas State Fair as a Junior Ambassador. Adam is treasurer of the Cloverleaf 4-H Club.

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