Ode to the Fair Board Member

My Generation

A lot of people work hard for precious little thanks during fair season. Here's a tip of the hat to the fair board member.

Published on: July 23, 2013

It's county fair season. Amen.

I could just end with that, but that would be cutting short the tale of a rural event near and dear to my heart. I grew up at the county fairs in southern Illinois, showing Shorthorns at a dozen different fairgrounds. (Don't tell my Dad, but I may have lapped the race track in his dually at any number of them.) We slept in the barns, we flung water from the washracks. We turned a simple cattle rinsing into a full-scale water war. Then we drenched each other in the water trough. When the work was over, we cruised the square, to the high school, to the fairgrounds, and around again, all to the sounds of George and Reba and Alan and Garth on the radio. Boyfriends were found and lost, and it was all so exciting under the lights of the racetrack, where we sat in the backs of pickups and bet nickels on the harness races.

Back in the day, at the Edwards County Fair. Also known as the best week of my teenage summer.
Back in the day, at the Edwards County Fair. Also known as the best week of my teenage summer.

And so, it gave me more pleasure than I can even put words to, when as we pulled into the Fulton County Fairgrounds Sunday evening to make our stalls, my five year old sighed and said, "I heart this place." That's my girl. And then to hear the excitement in my niece and nephew's voices for fair week, a.k.a., best week ever! Tradition. Over every generation.

But you know what has to happen before the fair ever happens? A whole heck of a lot of work, by a lot of folks who never get thanked. That's right: the fair board member.

Oh, the fair board member. Answerer of endless calls and balancer of ever-slimmer budgets. Answerer of questions relating to everything from electricity to fair queens. They are the people who figure out how to keep decrepit buildings standing, to get another year out of the beef barn, to run another water line. They are the ones who debate adding a beer tent or closing the fair, because the money just isn't there. They organize exhibits, move tractors and maintain grounds, and even more, make peace between the horse people and the cattle people. 

I wrote about one of my favorite fair board members last spring, when Neil Fearn was named a Master Farmer. Neil has served on the Edwards County Fair Board since I was two years old. That is dedication. But he's no martyr. He enjoys it. He actually really loves it, and he really loves the kids he works with there, too. So does Marvin Purzee. And Ray Postin. And any number of other fair board members across this country.

So if you like your county fair? If it's part of your very upbringing? If it's the highlight of your summer? Find a fair board member and thank them. They deserve it.