By Nita Johnson
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Each July comes anticipation of the annual Laurel County Fair, an event that offers sporting events, carnival rides, and various forms of entertainment ranging from music performances, contests, a petting zoo, and food vendors.
In September, downtown London transforms into a magical wonderland with the mixed aromas of blooming onions, grilled hamburgers, gyro sandwiches, entertainment, carnival rides, parade, and all the other aspects of the World Chicken Festival.
Sandwiched between those two popular events is the Laurel County Homecoming, an event often overlooked and overshadowed with the two festivals in the month prior and after.
The declining attendance of Homecoming was a concern for Laurel native Star Robbins, who has worked diligently to inject a renewed interest in a festival that is one of the oldest in the state. Its establishment in 1935, minus three separate years when the festival didn’t take place, the annual Homecoming event highlights and celebrates Laurel County’s history. Robbins’ dedication to the event earned her the Honoree award several years ago, and she continues to work with committee members to improve the event each year. Robbins does not do the event single-handedly. Instead, she surrounds herself with a group of people who appreciate and recognize the importance of our heritage.
This year, the Homecoming pageant for Teen and Miss have moved back to a preliminary for the Miss Kentucky scholarship pageant, and is closed to include only Laurel County contestants. Such a move is monumental for the community as it will ensure that Laurel County will be represented at the state contest. Thus far, only two of Laurel County’s talented young women have been worn the Miss Kentucky crown. Under the direction of Darrell and Susan Weaver, our county can hopefully look to seeing one of our own to continue the success of these two women.
Every year, the Homecoming features more and more attractions to entice the public to participate and attend events. Although carnival rides are not a part of the festival, inflatables and games and contests are available. A flea market displays the artisans of the community, while the Laurel County Historical Society and the Camp Wildcat campsite details the county’s past. The Sunday afternoon gospel singing marked the establishment of the event and winds down the festival each year.
The Honoree Banquet celebrates the achievements of Laurel County natives and this year is no exception. This year’s honorees will be officially announced in the Wednesday edition, but each one of this year’s selections is a source of pride for the community.
While many believe that Homecoming has “phased out” due to the county fair and the Chicken Festival, there are some who disagree. The county fair is a grand event and provides a summertime entertainment that is welcomed throughout the area. The World Chicken Festival has received numerous state and tourism awards for its four-day event. But both of those lack something that the Homecoming offers — the opportunity to look back at the county we call home and to take pride in the accomplishments of the people who did and do call this place home. Set in the historic Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park where the founders of the county donated land is the perfect spot for Laurel Countians — new and native — to reflect and remember, to celebrate and cherish, those who have made this county what it is today — a great place to live and work, a wonderful place to raise a family, and a great place to celebrate our role in history.
Without knowing our past, how can we possibly plan for our future?