Frederick County fair mingles fun, responsibilty

A massive undertaking with complex logistics and a goal of fun and responsibility will occur this month on the 41 acres owned by the Frederick County Fairgrounds and Stonewall Ruritan Club along Martinsburg Pike in Clearbrook.

More than 35,000 visitors are expected between July 27 and Aug. 1 to enjoy 20 rides, dozens of concessions, games, bands, home-cooked food and competition for prizes and money.

“Not everybody gets to go to the beach in the summer,” said Richard Leight, the fair association president. “Too many have to work all week and can’t take time off, but they can come to the fair in the evening or on the weekend.”

“It’s a big thrill for a lot of kids,” he added. “I am always amazed that some kids live (in the county) and have never even petted an animal.”

With Future Farmers of America, 4-H clubs and husbandry exhibits, there are animals aplenty at the fair.

Students from James Wood, Sherando and Millbrook high schools plus area middle schools, enter livestock competitions for the best beef, hogs, sheep, goats, poultry and rabbits.

Strict rules require the entry be personally cared for – fed, housed, cleaned – by students who also have to donate hours to the fair to be allowed to show their animals.

“They keep records and send letters to prospective buyers,” said Leight. “The goal is teach responsibility. Winners often use the money from the sale towards college expenses.”

Responsibility – and fair experience – fuels the passion of more than 200 volunteers guided by the 28 heads of committees and 28 fair association, Ruritan Club and two youth organization leaders who come back year after year to make the fair a success.

“Everyone knows what to do because they have done it before,” said Mary White O’Neal, the fair’s publicity chairwoman.

“My daughter started showing sheep in 1991,” said O’Neal. “I have been helping with the fair every year since then.”

Volunteer apprentices often elevate to chairperson, continuing the expertise and tradition.

Stacia Kendrick, a teacher at Robert A. Tyler Middle School in Stephens City, is responsible for the first time this year for five pageants with contestants aged 4 to 22.

She has helped out since her daughter was a contestant in 2011. Pageant contests are held before the fair begins.

“Winners then have to attend the fair every night to help out,” said Kendrick. “We want to teach them it’s about being a well-rounded individual with inner beauty as well as outer beauty.”

For the past 14 years, Margaret Ann Makowski, a retired hair stylist, has been helping the Stonewall Ruritan Club, the fair’s co-sponsor, sell barbecue chicken.

“I began helping when I joined the Ruritan Club and I do it every year because I want to and like the community service,” she said.

Jennifer Carter, a special education teacher at James Wood High School, has been helping at the fair for 18 years, having shown steer, hogs and lambs as a student until she became 18.

“I want to give back to the 4-H members who show today,” said Carter, who is in her fourth year as chairwoman for concessions – 13 food vendors and 32 promotion or business selling vendors.

Fair activities appear to occur non-stop, buttressed in the evening by bands playing before the South Side bleachers on the last four days.

Judging occurs for home economics, educational exhibits and agriculture, including crops and animal pen decorating.

Home Economics – with some winning entries good enough to eat – includes canning, foods, flowers, clothing, fine arts, creative crafts, hobbies and photography with youth (students in age categories) and adult divisions.

The diversity of the events includes a bubble gum blowing contest, Go-Kart racing, a box turtle race, Monster Truck show, square dancing, a truck and tractor pull, an apple pie eating contest, horse show, a youth pet show, demolition derby, a tot pig scramble (catching greased piglets) and a mutton busting contest (riding sheep).

New this year is a Skid Steer Rodeo with front-end loaders performing various challenging tasks. Exotic animals, such as a zebra, emu and camel from Wilson’s Wild Animal Park, will also be on display.

And there are the rides – 20 are scheduled – with inventive names like Dizzy Dragon, Scat, Hustler, Cliff Hanger, Hi-Roller, Wacky Castle, Rapid Slide and Quad Runner.

The extensive 125-page program includes the names of many volunteers, organizations, schools, companies and past winners.

It outlines the rules for each event, winners of past events and photographs from pageant winners, show case events and grand  champion animals.

“We want the fair to be affordable,” said Leight. “We have a woman who leases the kitchen for the fair and her goal is to feed a family of four for $20.”

Parking is free and daily admission is $3 for ages 6 to 11 ($10 for the entire week of the Fair) and $7 for ages 12 and older ($20 for the entire week of the fair). Children under 5 are free.

For those who enjoy the rides, the price to ride every night all night is $20.

None of the volunteers is paid and the fair has no paid staff, with the budget a zero-sum gain balancing revenues and costs.

“The only people who get paid are the man who cuts the grass and those who pick up the trash,” said Leight.

The fair began in 1934 on the Winchester Episcopal Church Grounds. It skipped a couple years, changed locations and after moving to its current location in 1972, has been held consecutively for 42 years.