Passionate 4-H youth to adult pageant queen

Leading a steer one day to wearing a crown the next, 4-H prepared one particular youth for many leadership situations – even pageants.

Shelby Soberalski walking her 4-H steer project in a local parade. Photo: Todd Reed.
Shelby Soberalski walking her 4-H steer project in a local parade. Photo: Todd Reed.

Learn how 4-H participation gave a local 4-H leader the confidence to win a local pageant. Follow Miss Ludington’s story about how her experience in 4-H helped her win the crown.

Shelby Soberalski was crowned 2016 Miss Ludington at West Shore Community College almost a year ago. The subject of Shelby’s platform was autism and mental health acceptance. Her talent could have been how to show a steer, but she shared a slideshow of the book she is writing about her older sister who has autism. Shelby affirms that 4-H has shaped who she is today.

D’Ann (D): How did you become involved in 4-H?

Shelby (S): 4-H was a family-focused event. My grandma and both parents participated in 4-H, plus my mom’s uncle was a leader for a long time. I remember I was 6 years old when I started 4-H. I entered a candle, carved with “I love mom and dad,” at the fair and I still have the candle today. My participation moved from a candle to showing beef and swine. I think I have shown everything but sheep, ducks and turkeys. I even qualified to show poultry at the state fair. It is a great thing to do as a family, I appreciated working with my parents and other adults to create a successful product. 4-H prepared me for the future and college. I was awarded many scholarships for college outside of the 4-H area because of the skills I learned in 4-H. My love for 4-H started with a simple candle, but has continued to create a lifetime worth of memories.

D: Besides showing animals, have you participated in other 4-H events or activities?

S: I attended Exploration Days one summer and I have been to Kettunen Center. I enjoyed those experiences because I met new people with the same interests and drive as I had. I remember attending Exploration Days the summer after my eighth grade year, it really was a spring board to start thinking about colleges and what I wanted to be when I grew up. We were able to stay in a Michigan State University dorm and eat in the cafeteria. It made me realize college is really cool.

D: What has participating in 4-H taught you?

S: 4-H taught me responsibility; no one did my chores for me. It was my project, so I did the work to be successful, not my parents. I learned how to relate better with others especially when they had different perspectives. 4-H helped me mature quickly. I became a better communicator, I learned how to put ideas into terms others could understand and want to follow along. The life skills I learned in 4-H was beneficial through college and helped me be a better member of society. I feel more comfortable in all situations because of the experiences I had while in 4-H.

D: What were your leadership experiences while you were in 4-H?

S: I was very involved with West Michigan Livestock Council. I held most positions on the board. I was the secretary, president for two years, corresponding secretary and then when I was a sophomore in college I was an adult advisor.

D: What has been your greatest takeaway from your 4-H leadership experience?

S: There is so much of the 4-H program and curriculum that has shaped my life. The leadership experiences and responsibility has helped me to be successful. I remember learning a proper handshake at a 4-H event, later in life I got a job because of my handshake. Another skill that has been invaluable is the ability to relate to other people of all ages, the ability to talk with people and listen to their hardships with compassion. I learned how to conduct multiple fundraisers. 4-H has taught me how to be an effective leader, how to make things work and turning plans into action.

D: If you were to give an aspiring youth leader some advice, what would that be?

S: I would thank them for their contributions to 4-H already, then I would encourage them to use all four “H’s” – head, heart, hands and health – to make a difference. You are given these tools to help others, so take full advantage of it. As a teen leader in 4-H, I realized what I could do as a person to make a difference.

D: What was it like to run for Miss Ludington?

S: First you have to do an interview with the judges before the pageant explaining why you are a good fit to win the crown. So I talked about my 4-H involvement growing up. The judges asked me about my 4-H commitment and what that has done for me, my leadership roles in 4-H. I shared that because of 4-H, I was able to graduate from college debt-free. There were 30 seconds left and they were still asking me questions about my 4-H involvement, leadership skills and communication skills. They were so interested in learning more about my experience in 4-H we went over my interview time. After you win a local title, you go onto Miss Michigan then Miss America. Betty Cantrell was a 4-H’er from Georgia who won Miss America in 2016. Her platform was “Healthy Children, Strong America” – she is working to educate Americans about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables and exercising.

Shelby Soberalski with horses

Shelby Soberalski as Miss Ludington with her team of draft horses.

D: Since you have graduated with your graphic design, art history degree, what are you doing now?

S: I am working for a nonprofit currently and as Miss Ludington, I am busy with community service events. I truly believe I am meant to serve others.

D: What are your future plans?

S: I plan to participate in the Mid-Michigan pageant, enroll in graduate school to become an art therapist, publish a children’s book and continue my 4-H leader role.

4-H grows teen leaders. If you would like to learn more about 4-H teen leadership and other youth development programs, visit the Michigan 4-H Youth Development website or contact

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program helps to prepare youth as positive and engaged leaders and global citizens by providing educational experiences and resources for youth interested in developing knowledge and skills in these areas. To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, civic engagement, citizenship and global/cultural programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.”

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