Berny Unruh: The value of the county fair

Berny Unruh
K-State Research and Extension
Berny Unruh

Usually I don’t spend a lot of time “googling” to find out what the rest of the world thinks, but I did want to find out what exactly what people think the County Fair really is. One of the definitions found was “a gathering of people to display or trade produce or other goods, to parade or display animals and often to enjoy carnival or funfair entertainment”.  The archaic spelling of “fair” was “fayre” used in the 15th to the 17th century.  Even back then, the definition still included “a gathering of stalls and amusements for public entertainment”.

In my opinion, the county fair is the best place to see new things and maybe even try new things. If all community members participate and enter an item they have made or if they share a “vintage” item from the past, there will always be some fantastic displays at the fair.

I have tried to exhibit at least one item at the fair each year but I’m not as devoted as my mother. My mom is 85 years old and I know for at least the last 20 years she has not missed bringing items to the fair to show in open class. She knits, crochets, quilts, sews, paints and creates all year long. Since 2011 she has won an award for the most items exhibited at the fair in the Clothing, Textiles and Handiwork division at the North Central Kansas Free Fair. She really doesn’t care about the ribbons or the premium money, she seriously just wants to have things for people to look at when they come to the county fair.

One item that was not mentioned in the definition of the county fair is the volunteer force that is necessary to make such an event happen. In addition to parents getting their family members and all their exhibits to the fair, they are also asked to volunteer in one of the many divisions. The Superintendents volunteer their time to accept the entries during the entry time, then organize the exhibits and prepare them for the judging. After the judging is complete, they work to display all the exhibits for the public to see. In the livestock division, the list of responsibilities is even longer as superintendents and assistants are constantly checking the animals and visiting with the 4-H members so they will be ready for the show. 

4-H families also volunteer at the 4-H Food Stand and help set up and clean up the buildings before and after the fair. 4-H teens are busy throughout the week teaching younger members, helping promote projects, creating videos or livestreaming shows and events, all while exhibiting their own projects. The leadership skills the junior leaders learn are invaluable to the community later in life.

The Fairboard works hard to plan evening events such as the rodeo, ranch rodeo, inflatable carnival and the concerts. There are also commercial exhibits that round out the entire definition of the County Fair.

If you did not get a chance to visit the Ellis County Fair this year, check out some events scheduled in a nearby county and find out what the county fair is all about.

Berny Unruh is the Family and Community Wellness Agent for the Cottonwood Extension District.  She can be reached at 785-628-9430 or at