LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
If want to really feel proud of Kentucky, there is no better way to reinforce that sentiment than taking a trip to the Kentucky State Fair.
There was a period, lasting over several decades, in my life when the year would have felt incomplete if I had been unable to make a two or three day trip to the Fair. I’ve slept in the cattle show area with friends who were showing champion dairy or beef cattle. I’ve even entered roosters in the chicken crowing contest which runs for several days.
But I was much younger then. I gradually drifted into just making day trips and finally into not going every year. Until last Friday, I hadn’t been to the Fair in five or six years so when we walked into the big West Hall foyer and immediately caught the familiar smell of hay and all the other scents that combine into that wonderful aroma of livestock in the barn, I felt a sense of déjà vu and warm emotion wash over me.
Loretta and I joined two of our County Extension agents and six of our friends and neighbors in a 12-passenger van early Friday morning for a trip that was pure Kentucky from beginning to end. Instead of the Interstate, we took scenic U.S. 150 through Danville, Springfield and Bardstown both ways. Turns out the route is just as quick as the big road and infinitely more interesting and enjoyable.
First, let me say there is no way to take in everything at the Fair in a single day trip. In fact, you can’t much more than scratch the surface unless you have far more energy and endurance than yours truly.
It’s wise to set priorities about your particular interests, find out where they are located in the huge sprawl of Freedom Hall, Broadbent Arena and the rest of the Exposition Center and plan your route through the place accordingly.
My own and Loretta’s special interest is all things 4-H, but most particularly, the photography exhibit. Since the late 90s, we have organized and taught, along with a cadre of volunteers, a summer photography day camp for kids in Garrard County. We have seen numerous youngsters develop what will be a life-long love for photography. We’ve seen kids lacking self confidence literally come out of their shells when they discovered they had special talent and earned champion awards at the county fair.
We believe that a few of our camp participants over the years will make careers in professional photography.
We’ve had numerous kids earn top recognition at the State Fair after winning at the county level but I knew this year’s group, which turned out to be a dozen girls between 11 and 14 years old, was going to be extra special. I’ve never been around a group of kids so totally focused on the task at hand, so eager to learn and so easy to teach.
I felt like the pied piper. I always have a couple or three kids who stick to me like glue throughout the camp but this year I had to divide my time among a very demanding dozen. It is such an absolute joy to work with youngsters who are excited and dead-set on learning. It is a thrill beyond description to watch them grasp and master new techniques and concepts. And this year it seemed to be happening every 10 minutes.
So our first destination was Cloverville, the center of all things 4-H at the Fair. And there we discovered that seven of our kids as well as one young Garrard County lady, not in our day camp, had received Blue Awards, the highest recognition!
Two other of our participants had received red and white (second and third highest). I don’t believe any other county in the state even came close to having that number of kids receive state level recognition.
I wanted to pump my fist in the air and scream YESSSSSSSSS! The only thing that would have made the way I felt more meaningful would have been having our girls with us at the exhibit. I actually wasn’t surprised. I had told them on the last day of camp when we were all editing and printing up pictures that they had some state winners.
I can hardly wait until next summer. I hope we have several of this year’s group with us again at photo camp, and somehow I’m going to figure out a way to take them to the State Fair with me.