When I was growing up, 4-H was a big part of my life. I looked forward to the fair all year. These days I still enjoy the fair and stay involved by entering open class projects with my kids.
In all my years of fair experience though, I’ve never really thought about all the work that goes into putting a fair on. My volunteer activity has only consisted of a yearly obligatory snack shack time slot for my 4-H club when I was a kid.
Here in Scott County, Kan., the fair is a pretty big deal. The open class entries are huge — over 1,000 photos a year are entered along with hundreds of open class art projects, clothing and foods. It takes a lot of time and effort to coordinate all those projects.
For the local Kahl family, volunteering to organize open class exhibits at the Scott County Fair is a family tradition. In fact, four generations come together each year to tackle the big job. They set up tables, accept numerous entries, tag projects, attach placement ribbons and arrange displays.
“We all love the fair, it’s a big part of our family,” Sandy Kahl says. “We have a great fair and open class projects are such a big part of keeping the fair growing.”
Sandy has seen the number of open class entries at the fair steadily increase over the last 35 years that she has helped with them.
“We try to be very opened minded about open class projects — if someone brings something they’ve made, we find a place to enter it,” she says. “Exhibits are judged on the Dutch system, so they are judged on merits of the individual project. Then there are overall champions. We enjoy seeing all the things that community members and kids bring in.”
Entries in open class handicraft and hobby exhibits have grown so much that Sandy’s family members have all stepped in to help her over the years. Sandy, her sister Sharon Powers, and her daughter Colleen Dearden are co-superintendents of handicrafts and hobby exhibits. Sharon’s kids Leesha Fox and Ryan Powers, and her mother-in-law Eileen Powers also help. Sandy’s daughter Malinda, mother Luella Erskin, and her five grandkids all volunteer too.
Sandy has a long history of fair involvement. She was born in Scott City, but moved to North Dakota with her parents when she was a small child. There, she met her husband Richard. They were both part of 4-H through their elementary and high school years and then served as 4-H leaders. When Sandy’s parents moved back to Scott City, she and Richard followed in 1972 so that they could help them farm.
In 1978 a friend asked Sandy to help her set up and enter open class projects. When that friend moved because of her husband’s job transfer, Sandy took the open class project organization over and has been doing it ever since. Richard has been there to help her set up for the projects every year. He became more involved in the fair during the past 10 years. He is a fair board member, superintendent of 4-H crops and superintendent of crops, vegetables and woodworking open class exhibits.
“Helping with the open class exhibits is worth it when you see how much people enjoy it,” Richard says.
The fair is definitely something my family enjoys. This year, I will know who to thank when my kids come to enter the dozens of art and craft projects they have been saving for months. ❖