Ed Eilert
County Chair
Is there any better slice of Americana than a county fair? It’s small children giggling with their parents on the merry-go-round. It’s teenagers trying to walk straight after getting off the Tilt-a-Whirl.
It’s friendly competition in the watermelon eating contest. It’s winning a stuffed animal for your girlfriend, child, or spouse at the ring toss.
It’s the smell of onions, sausage, hamburgers, corn dogs and funnel cakes; with pink cotton candy stuck to your fingers.
It’s the lights. The crowds. The sounds. It’s animals, and lots of them. Cattle. Sheep. Goats. Horses. Pigs. Crowing roosters and clucking chickens.
It’s your friends.
It’s your family.
It’s your fair.
The Johnson County Fair is when old-fashioned traditions of small-town America come alive, and it remains very affordable — much of it is free. It offers the best family fun you can have anywhere.
The annual event is an interesting reflection of our changing community. Yet, the county fair is still very much an agricultural event. The fairgrounds’ biggest, and typically busiest, buildings are still those dedicated to animals and 4-H youth projects. The stalls are filled with livestock, and probably will be for years to come.It is where life slows down, if you let it, and our agrarian heritage takes center stage.
Historically, the roots of Johnson County were seeded on the farm, but we are not nearly the agricultural community we once were. The fair has had to adjust as the Johnson County community around it grows and the interests of residents diversify.
We don’t expect the agricultural aspect of the fair to disappear anytime soon. It’s too ingrained in what the fair is, and in what the residents of Johnson County expect to see when they pull onto the fairgrounds every summer. That’s good for the Johnson County Fair. It’s also good for the Johnson County community.
The event does not just happen overnight. Scores of volunteers, including Johnson County K-State Research and Extension volunteers, Extension staff, and the Johnson County Fair Board members are essential to pulling off the Johnson County Fair every year, and for making it the enjoyable experience it is. Please remember, the county fair has no paid staff.
Volunteers always play an integral role in our society. That’s especially true at the Johnson County Fair. Volunteers are truly the heart and hands to an enjoyable event. They are the salt of the earth because their efforts allow others to enjoy a wonderful fair that offers so much for so many different people with their different tastes and interests.
As you enjoy the many sights, sounds, and smells of the Johnson County Fair this year, take time to thank some of the many volunteers who make the annual event the well-oiled machine it is. The support and gratitude you show them also will go a long way in keeping the fair strong by encouraging them to continue their impressive volunteer work in making the fair possible and, perhaps, in continually serving their communities after the fairgrounds are closed.
The Johnson County Fair has been a county mainstay for more than seven decades and an annual celebration in Gardner since 1940, meaning that next year, about this time, we will be celebrating the 75th anniversary of this great event.
The fair’s longevity and continued vitality flow from something other than nostalgia. There is changelessness to the event — someone who first attended 10 years ago, 20, or even longer, will recognize the place and many of the people right away. That’s where the real secret to the fair’s longevity comes in: It always blends the familiar and the timeless with the new and unexpected.
The goal of our county fair always is the same. 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 our agricultural heritage and our urban legacy that mixes new visions with old traditions.
There’s simply nothing like it. So please, come join me at the 2014 Johnson County Fair. You’ll be glad you did.