Platou has sweet memories of Ag Expo

July 18, 2007|by JANET HEIM

Editor's note - There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like ... Ann Platou

Age: 54

Occupation: Teacher at South Hagerstown High School

Hometown: Sharpsburg; now lives in Funkstown.

Where would you see Platou? With the start of Ag Expo and Fair only three days away, Ann Platou looks forward to her role as a 4-H judge.

"I spent my growing up years in 4-H," said Platou, whose father was one of the leaders of the 4-H group in Sharpsburg.


She was also involved when her son, Allan, who is now 20, showed cattle when he was in 4-H.

Platou has judged the cake category for many years, missing only a couple of years going back to when the Great Hagerstown Fair was held at the Fairgrounds and then at the Speedway. This year, she is also judging the open class crafts category.

Platou has developed a strategy to avoid sugar overload when judging cakes - don't eat any other sweets that day and drink lots of water and unsweetened coffee and tea.

A Funkstown resident for 29 years, Platou said she judges the entries with another judge from Frederick County. The two judges are allotted three hours to judge the entries, which includes an individual interview with each 4-H participant.

There are strict criteria for judges to follow, basing their decisions on texture, the size of the air holes and flavor, among other things.

Platou enjoys the one-on-one with the youth and likes seeing the 4-Hers build skills and confidence as they participate year after year. She said she sees the same families involved each year and has noticed that the number of entries is steadily declining as the county becomes less focused on agriculture.

At the beginning of the tasting session, Platou said she starts out with larger pieces to sample, but by the end the samples get smaller. She said some judges don't like to do the baked goods categories because of all the sugar, but Platou doesn't mind.

In fact, she's so committed to her involvement with Ag Expo that when she and her husband, Arnold, began planning a summer trip to Norway, she said it needed to be scheduled around Ag Expo.

Platou said most years the first- and second-place winners are very close, but are clear choices among the other entries. She said there was a time when people didn't like to judge cakes because it was so competitive.

The honor of being the grand champion is still highly sought after. Usually the grand champion cake is the one that brings the most money at the cake auction during Ag Expo, Platou said.

Even though Platou admits she's not much of a dessert person, that she prefers ice cream, she said she usually leaves the judging with a few new cake recipes to try.

Platou, a 1971 graduate of Boonsboro High School, grew up on a farm. Her parents, Paul and Orpha Spielman, farmed the Mumma Farm in Sharpsburg, where the Antietam Battlefield Education Center is now.

Platou's brother, Hal Spielman, is president of Ag Expo.

Even though Ann could cook and sew, she opted to show hogs as a 4-Her, instead of entering the Home Arts categories. She said sometimes her father would let her brother stay overnight with the hogs at the fair, but he always made Ann come home.

"At that time, it wasn't popular for women to go into agriculture, but I did the next closest thing," she said.

Platou earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland, College Park and a master's from Hood College, neither of which have Home Economics Education programs anymore. She started teaching foods classes at E. Russell Hicks Middle School, where she taught for 10 years.

Then Platou took a 10-year break after her son was born, returning to teaching 10 years ago. She taught sewing for two years at Northern Middle School and has taught child care at South High for the past eight years.

She said her father wanted her to be an elementary school teacher, but she was attracted to Home Economics because "hands on was my thing."

"I love the kids. They give me a lot of energy," Platou said.

As a high school child care teacher, she teaches her students how to observe and work with preschoolers, as well as what to expect of the "little ones." The last half of the first and all of the second semester, her students work with preschoolers three days a week.

Platou also helps with Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the boys' track team at South High, where she is called the "team mom."

For Platou, it's all about the kids.

"I love helping kids learn, but isn't that what teachers are supposed to do?" Platou said.

Hobbies: "School," said Platou without hesitation. She also loves to sew and is busy finishing up quilted table runners she is making as gifts for friends and family she'll be staying with in Norway.

In addition, Platou enjoys her involvement with the praise team at her church, Hagerstown Church of the Brethren.

What does Platou like best about Washington County? "I love the open spaces and the ruralness. The people here are just wonderful, very friendly and willing to work with you," she said.

Platou adds that she doesn't like all the development that is happening in the county.

If you know anyone in the community who might make an interesting Our Town feature, call Janet Heim at 301-733-5131, ext. 2024, or send an e-mail to

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