Chairman Ed Eilert and Commissioner Calvin Hayden
The Johnson County Fair truly is as American as apple pie.
In fact, pie and its auctioning off, donation back for resale, and auctioning off again has supported a decadelong memorial fund, funding special projects and improvements, past and present, to the fairgrounds.
Proceeds from past pie auctions (showcasing the baking talents of Virginia Mackey) and financial support from the memorial fund have served as stepping stones for construction of the new Heritage Plaza at the Johnson County Fairgrounds.
A year ago, the first phase of the project was not quite complete in time for the fair.At the time of the dedication, the concrete base for the pavers had been poured, but the granite pavers were sitting on a West Coast shipping dock awaiting clearance from U.S. Customs.
The Heritage Plaza, with 1,600 to 1,800 black pavers in place, is now ready, as the 2012 Johnson County Fair gets under way from Aug. 7-11.
Rex Harrison, Spring Hill, chairman of the Heritage Plaza Committee of the Fair Board, admits that he’s proud about being a part of this special project and its purpose.
“Remembering and honoring all the individuals, families, and companies that have made the Johnson County Fair a success since its inception has been a longtime goal of the Johnson County Fair Board,” he said. “We hope to start building a legacy for generations to come.”
As committee chairman, Harrison is also characteristic of the multigenerations of volunteers, participants, and supporters of the Johnson County Fair. His family has been involved in the fair for four generations, dating back to the 1940s. Shelly Harrison, Rex(s wife, is the current president of the Johnson County Fair Board.
They’re devotion to the county fair is not untypical.
“Our families have been involved in the fair for a long, long time, just like a lot of others,( Harrison said. (That(s what the fair is built on.”
The success of the Heritage Plaza depends on donations. The Johnson County Fair Association, its governing Fair Board, and the Heritage Plaza Committee hope to generate financial support for the project by selling personalized engraved granite pavers that are then permanently installed, creating a memorial pathway at the Heritage Plaza. The cost is $100 for each paver.
The Plaza, located between the Memorial Stage and the restrooms, provides fairgoers a place to sit, reminisce, appreciate and absorb the histories of the many people who have devoted their time over the fair’s 73-year history to the success of this annual summer event, held on the county fairgrounds located near downtown Gardner.
The memorial site was once unused, barren sod (or mud, depending on Mother Nature), guarded by a large, ailing Chinese elm tree. The tree is gone, replaced with a memorial water drinking fountain, flagpole, and hundreds of black pavers composed of hard, tough granite. Each paver can accommodate up to three lines of engraving, with 18 characters per line.
The pavers can serve many purposes and can memorialize special recognitions, including:
Fair volunteers, judges, and mentors;
Entire families or a family member;
A special friend, leader, or patron; and,
4-H clubs, Family and Community Education groups, Johnson County K-State Extension Master Gardeners and Master Food Volunteers, and other organizations or businesses.
Besides Mackey and Harrison, other Heritage Plaza committee members are Tony Allen, Bob Barthol, Charlie Brunker, Darci Hamilton, Todd Knappenberger, Matt Meek, and Fred Seymour.
So far, approximately 70-80 engraved bricks are installed at the Heritage Plaza. They offer a who’s who of the many individuals and families that span the generations and make up the Johnson County Fair community.
One paver honors Landon Harold “Bing” Carter, a hall of fame auctioneer and founder of the Johnson County Fair 4H Livestock Auction that began in 1957. He died March 10 of this year at the age of 95. Carter served as auctioneer at the fairgrounds for 48 years, until retiring in 2005.
Another pays tribute to Uncle Glen Schulz, “The Water Man.”
Kim Nellor also is remembered. A longtime fair supporter, she provided rhubarb before her death in the spring of 1999 to Virginia Mackey, which she then used in the very first fundraising pie auction at the Johnson County Fair. The annual auctioning of fruit pies has been a traditional event ever since.
Others individuals and families permanently memorialized in stone include names long associated with the County Fair and the local agricultural community. They include; Schlagel, Kelly, Allen, Rochel, Donahue, Knappenberger, Knabe, and Russell, and the list goes on.
Both the Morning Glory and Sharon 4-H/Youth Development clubs, with their lengthy history of 4-H youth members serving the Johnson County community, have commemorative stones. The Plaza also includes pavers from two relatively new Johnson County 4-H clubs, Prairie Moon and Great Plains.
Pavers also recognize organizations, ranging from the Johnson County 4-H Livestock Club, a fairly new group, to the Johnson County 4-H Dog Club, which has been around for decades.
Bickelmeyer Meats is the first, and so far only, corporate sponsor with a paver.
Individuals, families, organizations and corporate sponsors are invited to make their mark and become a part of history, as the Heritage Plaza continues to grow and expand. Besides engraved pavers, other giving opportunities include contributions for benches, trash cans, lighting, corner posts, and plant boxes.
A second phase of the project will extend the Plaza, with hundreds of additional pavers, to complete a semicircle around the restrooms.
Forms to buy pavers and additional information about the Heritage Plaza are available at (click on (Heritage Plaza). All contributions should be mailed to: Johnson County Fair Association, c/o Heritage Plaza, PO Box
361, Gardner, KS 66030.
The Johnson County Fair Association is a 501(c)(3) organization.
With the 2012 Johnson County Fair about to begin, fairgoers are invited to visit the Heritage Plaza, take a break, and appreciate the growing list of names that have left their mark in time, and by their deeds. The Heritage Plaza is a legacy being built one engraved paver at a time for past, present, and future generations to share and enjoy.