Shouts and Murmurs: Step right up to fair’s open class
Some things just never change -- including the Leavenworth County Fair.
Sure, the rides and games moved northward some 20 years ago, the little white church food stands are a thing of the past and events at the permanent arena draw crowds each night.
But all in all, through the years, the county fair has remained much the same. As much a fair tradition as anything else are the open class competitions, in which anyone who lives in Leavenworth County, or in neighboring counties, is welcome to enter.
Take a walk through the open class exhibits on a fair night and you'll see prizewinning livestock, garden produce, foods, sewing, photography, crafts and more. Monday afternoon during a brief "What if" session, my co-workers and I contemplated what each of us could enter in the fair.
Lori Rahjes, who with her family on Friday night picked a bucket full of blackberries, could enter her homemade blackberry jam. Caroline Trowbridge could enter zinnias from our office flower bed, or flowers from her home garden. Paula Gish could enter her counted cross stitch, Shawn Linenberger could offer one of the many excellent photographs he's taken, and I'm thinking about entering an angel food cake made from scratch.
Meanwhile, Maggie Bailey, our summer intern and a longtime 4-H'er, could probably take any of a dozen or so entries.
Open class competition is open to all ages. For instance, when I was a child, baking for the fair was not only a way my mother found to keep me busy, it was a way to earn extra money to spend on the rides and games.
At that time, when one ride cost well under a dollar, the $10 or so earned from the various first-, second- and third-place ribbons, went quite a way.
Like most things, the cost of rides has increased. This year, the regular price of a ride is set at $1.25.
But one thing that hasn't increased is the amount of premiums paid to open class winners.
For instance, the first-place winners in the food preparation division receive $1, second place, 75 cents and third place, 50 cents.
Edna Elder, who has worked in the fair office for more than 30 years, said she can't recall an increase in premiums.
But, said Elder, who enters the competition herself, there's more to it than the money.
"It's just kind of interesting to see how you compare with others in your canning and stuff," Elder said. "I got a grand champion on my tomatoes last year -- that floored me."
In her work with the fair, Elder has come across die-hard competitors who just enter for the fun of it.
"There's one lady in Leavenworth that always enters a whole lot of exhibits and then she turns her ribbons in after the fair," Elder said. "She just enjoys doing it and seeing what she gets and then the turns her ribbons in so we can use them again."
Entering in the open class is, as Elder said, a fun thing to do. There's a thrill in seeing your own entry in a display case topped with a blue, red or white ribbon. And, there's even more to it than that.
Entering the fair somehow changes your perspective. Suddenly, you're not just a bystander coming to see the sights. Instead, you're a bona fide participant in an institution that's as American as apple pie.
And, like many of the best things in life, that's something money just can't buy.