Everybody's a winner at the fair
By BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
Some things never change.
While covering the Washington County Fair several decades ago, one of the shows I always covered was the sheep show. I can’t remember why that happened, but the sheep show was mine for the dozen years I was there. That show in addition to nearly every other one at one time or another.
During those years, the names Greiner, Sprouse and Schmitz were the surnames of the big winners. The Greiners and Sprouses were from around Keota and Keota farmers seemed to have a handle on exhibiting the best sheep. The Schmitzes were from Crawfordsville and largely limited to one family — one family with three very active 4-H’ers.
A couple of days ago the Washington Journal’s Fair Tab crossed my desk. In an idle moment, I leafed through the section. Wow, the surnames stayed the same, only the first names changed.
Some of the children of exhibitors I had covered were now winning the big prizes. No, there were not any third-generation winners but enough second-generation champions to make me feel old. Yes, the Sprouses and Schmitzes are still winning sheep awards.
And then there are the Sierens, Brinnings, Mareks and Sextons winning in other shows. It’s safe to say that as long as there are family farms, the surnames of exhibitors at most county fairs don’t change, just the first names.
I’ve been doing this fair thing for close to 40 years. It is not a natural for me, having grown up a “townie.” While I worked on farms during high school and college, that doesn’t qualify me as an expert on agriculture.
During that time I’ve seen a ton of sheep, cattle, swine, goats, rabbits and chickens. I still, however, have difficulty telling a great lamb from a good one. Most of the time, they all look the same to me with the exception of hair color.
One thing I have noticed, though, is that the numbers (both livestock and exhibitors) are steadily declining. That shouldn’t be any surprise — there are less farms and less young people going back to the farm. Without those two ingredients, you are going to see numbers slide.
I’ve reported from close to 10 county fairs and each one is unique. While you have many of the same elements — kids and animals — each one differs in entertainment and programming.
The Ida County Fair in Ida Grove always tried to have some small-scale entertainment. Although not to be confused with the Great Jones County Fair (located in Monticello) or the Clay County Fair (located in Spencer and billed as the largest county fair in the country), the Ida County Fair ranks among the best I covered. I don’t know if things have changed since the late 1970s and early 1980s when I was there, but one of the entertainment groups when I was there was the Mandrell Sisters. Not bad for a small county fair.
Although every fair does have its winners, I think every exhibitor is a winner at the fair. Many of the 4-H’ers spend a lot of time nurturing and guiding their project. What happens beyond that is out of their control. But the effort definitely is there and that is what makes all winners.
Finally, several weeks ago in this forum, I questioned whether an injury was the real reason Shawn Johnson chose not to try out for this year’s team. After watching the team perform in London, I have my answer.
Johnson must have a good agent because she still is getting more than her share of air time, and she also is smart. She knew she couldn’t make the team and not making it would have been too much of a blow for her overly inflated ego to handle.