Return to The Best Times Homepage

As I See It > August 2012

It's fair time again in Johnson County—and there will be "Something to Crow About" this year at the Johnson County Fair, which begins Aug. 7 and ends Aug. 11 at the fairgrounds near downtown Gardner.

For the most part, the fair remains a free event. There's no cost to enter the fairgrounds or to view the exhibits and livestock, but some evening events, such as the rodeo, dirt track races, and popular demolition derby, charge for admission.

The annual fair is small and quaint. It always has plenty to offer for the young and the young at heart, including carnival rides for kids little and big, farm animals, and exhibits that can help us better understand the importance of agriculture.

The fact that we live, work, and raise our families in the state's most populous county does not mean an absence of the old-fashioned traditions the county fair brings. The heart of this special annual event is the 4-H exhibits. For the 4-H members who work hard all year long, the fair brings a chance to showcase talents and sell projects that required many skills.

When the fair formally gets under way on Monday, Aug. 6, the throngs of people who'll pour through the gates in the following days will be treated to the fairgrounds cleaned after the winter closing, the livestock shows organized, the food prepared, the contest judges lined up, and the carnival ready for up-and-down, twist-and-shout action.

But what may not be obvious to Johnson County Fair patrons is how all that planning and organization gets done, and who does it. In fact, getting ready for the fair is a yearlong process involving more than 100 volunteers putting in hundreds of hours and an active Johnson County Fair Board.

4-H volunteers work before, during, and after the fair to set up, operate, and clean up. None are paid, though some 4-H members hope to earn a trip to the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson in return for their labor.

Many of the volunteers started out as children in the 4-H program or as parents of children in the program, then moved into adult volunteer roles, where many stay, despite their children having graduated out.

The volunteers, young and old, are to be commended. Once many of them exhibited together as youths; now they're helping, and still coming together, because the county fair is a family tradition. Despite the August heat, they will show up again for one reason: They love the fair.

For many residents, maintaining a small-town atmosphere is one of the best qualities of a community, large or small. Friendliness, community spirit, and simple fun are key ingredients for maintaining generational traditions in Johnson County.

The annual fair parade begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, in downtown Gardner. There's nothing like a hometown parade to call attention to a community's identity and individuality. Whether you're participating or watching, there's something special about small-town celebrations and a parade that snakes through the heart of a community.

For kids it's the sheer excitement, especially the candy that parade participants hand out. Children can observe people on horses, decorated bikes, motor scooters, and motorcycles; drivers on lumbering old tractors; or people opting to drive or ride antique and shiny new cars. They can wave to their friends on floats or in school bands.

It's not about keeping in step, or having slick floats, or hitting the right notes, whether it's a group of kids singing or the high school band playing.

It's about handmade costumes that fall apart halfway through the parade and makeshift decorations sometimes held together by a quick mending with duct tape, staples, and nails.

It's about Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts proudly wearing their uniforms, young dancers in colorful attire, and youths showing their martial arts skills.

It's about silly-looking clowns making balloon animals.

It's about color guards proudly carrying flags.

It's about all ages coming together to have a good time. It's about community pride, tradition, and a sense of place. It's about an agricultural heritage and an urban legacy that mixes new visions with old ideals.

There's simply nothing like it. The Johnson County Fair and annual parade are a joy to enjoy. They are the best family fun you can have, and it's worth repeating, much of it is free.
Please join me at the fair. It will offer "Something to Crow About."