Countdown to IPM '17: Huron County boasts three provincial Queens
BY DENNY SCOTT
A significant aspect of the annual International Plowing Match (IPM) is the Queen Competition which, for more than half a century, has been recognizing the efforts of Queens from local plowing matches.
The competition selects one of the local representatives to represent the Ontario Plowmen’s Association (OPA) for the year to come.
In the history of the IPM Huron County has had three Queens ascend to the rank of provincial Queen; the late Amy Beccario (née Stewart) who reigned in 1966-67, Lynne Godkin (née Dodds) who reigned in 1984-85 and Melissa Veldman (née Sparling), Huron’s most recent Queen, who reigned in 2010.
Beccario holds a special place on the list as she won the Queen competition on home turf, a feat that has yet to be been repeated.
Beccario won in 1966 and was Queen for 1967. In 1966, the International Plowing Match was held at the Scott family farm near Seaforth and has earned the nickname the Mud Match.
Beccario was the daughter of past Huron County Warden Ken Stewart and Clarissa. She was coached in plowing by Bob Fotheringham and bested eight contestants for the title. She was 19 year’s old at the time.
Recollections of Beccario, who passed away in 2009, were featured in a special 50th anniversary book produced in 2011 by the Ontario Plowmen’s Association. According to the write-up that was submitted by her family, she remembered the grandeur of the site.
“The tented city covered about 60 acres and had four streets, three avenues and about 300 exhibitor tents,” she said. “It was very memorable for visitors and plowmen alike.”
The match started in the middle of a rainstorm on Tuesday, Oct. 11 and ended the same way on Oct. 15.
“For the visitors, the gooey sea of mud provided a massive challenge,” she said. “Rubber boots were brought in by the truckload. Despite all this, the crowds came and attendance reached 70,000. It was a success in many ways. And, everyone who attended tracked home souvenirs of our rich Huron County soil!”
She said, in the write-up, that the plowing conditions were nearly ideal despite the rain.
After being Queen, Beccario went on to become a secondary school teacher in the Niagara Peninsula. She married David Beccario and had two children, Brian and Sarah.
Godkin was named Queen for the 1985 International Plowing Match and said she really enjoyed her year with the crown.
“It was a blast,” she said. “It was the best year ever.”
Godkin explained that, when she won, the OPA would purchase a car for the winner.
“I got a red Ford Escort and, for the year, the OPA paid insurance and mileage, but the car was mine to keep,” she said. “They did that for two more years then went to leasing the vehicle for the year.”
She said, being 20-years-old at the time, the car was a huge development in her life.
The vehicle came with magnetic stickers telling everyone who she was and also provided her with her first important lesson about being the Queen.
“In the very first parade, I sat on the hood of the car with a blanket,” she said.
“I was slipping and sliding all over the hood and having trouble hanging on. That was the first thing I learned was how important it was to hang on to the windshield wipers to make sure you stay on the hood,” she said with a laugh.
The car took her all over the province, Godkin said, and most times, it was just her.
“Those kinds of things, driving unchaperoned across the province and sitting on the hood of a car for a parade might not happen in this day and age,” she said.
Godkin’s first event also provided important learning experiences, she said.
“My first banquet was in a place called Bognor in Grey County,” she said. “The first thing I learned thanks to it was to ask for at least three estimates as to how long it would take to get somewhere.”
Godkin pointed out that GPS systems weren’t available when she was Queen and she had to rely on hand-printed directions she taped to her dashboard.
“I made it to the event just in time, but I learned then and there to not trust one person when scheduling out trips,” she said.
The banquet at Bognor, which is nearly a two hour drive from Godkin’s childhood home near Winthrop, held some more teachable moments. Godkin said she wasn’t aware of the fact that she wasn’t just at the event to bring greetings from the OPA, but she was also there as a guest speaker.
“I wrote my speech on the paper table cloth,” she said, laughing at the memory. “Then, they told me the speeches were going to be made in the upstairs of the hall we were in, so I had to rip the speech off the table cloth and bring it up stairs with me. That was a real baptism by fire.”
Godkin said she learned to always bring a speech with her just in case.
After those early experiences, she said her time as Queen was a piece of cake, with the exception of attending the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto.
“I was driving to Toronto to the Royal and I lost my bearings on the 401,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do, but then I saw a dirty car with a decal from a Huron automobile dealer. I figured they must be farmers and must be going to the Royal.”
Sure enough, the people in the dirty car were on their way to the Royal and, aside from a stern talking to when she got home, Godkin was no worse for wear.
Aside from the Bognor banquet and the Toronto trip, Godkin said everything else went well.
“I opened fairs, participated in parades, attended banquets and was the official representative for the OPA at farm shows,” she said. “I also led a session at the convention the next year for the upcoming Queen hopefuls.”
The experience opened a lot of doors for Godkin, who is now a teacher at Central Huron Secondary School in Clinton.
“I worked for the OPA for a couple years afterwards and that was fun,” she said. “Then I took time to go to school.”
Godkin said her year as Queen gave her a chance to travel across Ontario and make friends she still keeps in touch with to this day, especially at the annual International Plowing Match.
Godkin has signed on with the 2017 IPM in Walton as Secretary for the executive. Previously, she was chair of the Queen of the Furrow competition at the 1999 International Plowing Match near Dashwood.
Being Queen allowed her to have fun, but was also a growing experience because she learned how to handle interviews, how to think on her feet and how to handle a crowd.
“Having those skills has proven invaluable,” she said.
Veldman was Queen for 2010 and said that, while the win seems like it was a long time ago, she remembers being passionate about the competition.
“I was excited,” she said. “I wanted to win. I was in Tecumseh, so a lot of family couldn’t make it to support me but the Huron County plowing community is a strong group and all of them were there. It was nice to win in front of a bunch of hometown people.”
She said she looked forward to the coming year and enjoyed having the leased car the Ontario Plowmen’s Association made available for her.
While there was a quarter-decade between them, Veldman said her responsibilities were very similar to Godkin’s.
Both said they were responsible for going to local plowing matches, promoting the next International Plowing Match (both of which were in Elgin County) and wherever else the Plowmen’s Association asked her to.
As for Veldman’s most memorable moment, she said there was a celebration in her home community of Varna when she returned home from the competition.
“There was a celebration in Varna for myself and plowing champion Brandon McGavin and the other champions,” she said. “A lot of community people came out. That was definitely one of my most memorable moments. It was nice to see everyone come out and celebrate the local talent and it made for an awesome experience.”
Veldman said that desire played a strong part in her big win.
“I went in wanting to win, so I prepared,” she said. “I did research on the organization and had plowing practice and interview skills. I guess I had a good speech and I prepared by running it as well. I knew my speech like the back of my hand.”
She said that Queen competitors used to have to sing a song, and she had memorized that as well.
“I prepared quite a bit, and I wanted to win, but I didn’t let anyone know I wanted to win,” she said. “I just stuck to doing what I needed to do.”
All that preparation and the experience of attending the event has helped her throughout her life, Veldman said.
“It was a great networking opportunity and now I know tons of people from all over the province,” she said. “Aside from the networking, you get these hands-on skills that other people may not have the opportunity to practise.”
She said she learned to talk in front of people with little to no preparation, participate in interviews, both with the media and in the competition, and learn how to talk to anyone.
“Sure, I got a car for a year, and that was good, but mostly the networking and skills are what you get when you win,” she said. “Those contacts have helped advance me in my life and my career. You get thrown into events and places where you don’t know anyone and you learn to talk about all aspects of agriculture and, around here, that’s a good thing to know.”
Veldman will be taking the reigns of the competition this year as the director of the IPM Queen of the Furrow event in Walton.
“Jacquie Bishop [Chair of the IPM] asked me if I would be involved,” Veldman said. “I know Jacquie quite well, and I said of course I would help.”
Veldman said she has been involved in all different levels of the plowing match, having experienced the Huron County Plowing Match and, of course, having experience with the OPA and IPM through her time as Queen.
She will be implementing a shorter program than normal this year which reflects the age and responsibilities of most of the Queen candidates involved.
“It’s a three-day program instead of a five-day one because the girls involved are university students,” she said. “We want to avoid having them out of school for so many days.”
Veldman said that school programs, such as nursing, require students to avoid missing consecutive days, so the program is being tailored to make sure Queen competitors don’t have to choose between competing and their future.
“It’s still the same components with an interview, plowing, speeches and the top-five competitors doing an impromptu speech. We’re just trying to shorten the timeline of the event.”
As for those looking to win, both Veldman and Godkin had the same advice for the Queen hopefuls: Be yourself.
“That would be my biggest tip,” Veldman said. “Don’t be the person they want you to be. Just be yourself.”
“You have to be yourself and you have to be comfortable with your strengths,” Godkin said. “When it comes time to talk to people or do a speech, you need to feel good about what you’re doing and who you are.”
Huron County’s Queen of the Furrow for 2017 is Marion Studhalter of the Walton area who will be competing for the prestigious title of Ontario Queen of the Furrow during this year’s IPM.