Fair, Weather, Friends

Chapter 15

All the News from Walnut Shade, KS
September 1, 2011

The Miller County Fair was a great success, despite the heat.  Lauri Duffy’s Jersey Wooly and Andrea Duffy’s Holland Lob received blue ribbons in the rabbit show.  John Cramer, Jr. won first place in public speaking and Hannah Tucker was the winner of the fashion review.  Hannah also received a blue ribbon for her photography entry and her cat, Rudy, won the cat agility contest.  Congratulations to all the Willing Workers 4-H members who participated in the Fair.  We are proud of you.

Marie Green says that the Dixieland Stompers were a hit at the Fair Friday night.  The band is made up of Jim Fillmore on drums, Al Higgs on clarinet, Clarke Wick on trumpet and Randy Humphreys on bass.  Randy, who lives in Tillman, is a new addition to the band; he’s also principal bassist with the St. Joseph Symphony and plays with a jazz combo in Kansas City.

Miller County schools are back in session.  Walnut Shade Elementary has eighty-two students this year, and Miller County USD 345 has seventy-five middle school and sixty-three high school students.

Harry Singleton reports that work on the Convent B&B is under way.  An architectural firm from Kansas City completed drawings a few weeks ago and the Strauss Company from St. Joseph was been chosen to do the restoration/renovation.  Harry estimates that the work will take about two months and he and Jason plan to have a Christmas open house.

Jeff Barnett says that he has an extra ticket for the KU football game against McNeese State on Saturday.  Eddy, being the staunch Mizzou fan she is, has decided not to attend, even though she says that it is always fun to see Kansas lose.

The Excelsior Book Club will be reading Destiny of the Republic along with the rest of the town.   They will resume their regular weekly meetings next Wednesday after having taken the summer off.  Sherri Brown will host the meeting.

Dr. Cramer attended a continuing education course at K-State last week on feline gastrointestinal and liver disorders.

Sandy and John Cramer, Glenda and Eddie Singleton, and Arlene and Don Cornet had lunch with Rev. Katherine and Les Derby on Sunday.  After lunch, Sandy, Glenda, Arlene and Rev. Katherine discussed plans for the fall festival at St. Stephen’s in October.  John, Eddie, Don and Les watched the Royals beat the Cleveland Indians, 2 to 1, on Les’ new 56” flat panel TV.

Dorothy Westover and Betty Watkins met with Father Mike to discuss publishing a cookbook for St. Brendan’s annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration in 2012.

The Miller County Master Gardeners were in town to look at the gardens that will be on their fall  tour.  While the summer heat has been baking everything in the county, Phyllis Dane is encouraged by the persistence shown by the local gardeners in making sure that they will be ready for the tour.

Hazel and Millie Bradford had a delightful lunch on Monday with Miss Cecilia Davenport and her cousin, Grace Estes, from New Haven, Connecticut.  Miss Estes retired from Yale University in May after teaching international law for fifty-three years.  Her latest book, The Erosion of Human Rights in Age of Terrorism, has just been published by Oxford University Press.

Recuperating from the Fair and hoping for cooler weather…

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

The Miller County Fair closed on Sunday with the awarding of ribbons and premiums, and abundant praise for the 187 youth and adults who put themselves and their creations on display.  The Fair has been part of the connective tissue of our larger community for nearly 150 years, in addition to being one of the last events of the summer and a signal that fall is about to begin, in essence if not in fact.  Few people understand the amount of work that goes into the two and one-half day event, but Judy reminds me every year and I make sure that I tell her what a great job she and the Fair Board have done.  I suspect that the effort they put into it sometimes makes them lose sight of the importance the Fair has played in the history of the county.  It’s hard to think about the past when you are trying to make sure that the demolition derby starts on time or the kids in the stick rodeo are all under eight years old.

But in a way, the past is what the Fair is all about:  tradition, continuity, and connection to those beliefs and practices that may only be understood down deep in our DNA.  For most of us, the Fair has just always been there, taking place year after year, but it did have a beginning, after all.  In 1872, to be precise, when sixteen members of the Agricultural and Mechanical Association put up $500 each to purchase twenty acres of land southeast of Fremont (at the staggeringly high price of $80 an acre) and construct a limestone Fair building (which stands to this day).  After the final bill for the building was paid, the Association had $500 left over for premiums for the first Fair entrants.  In addition to the variety of livestock shown, fruits and vegetables were entered and many were judged worthy to be displayed at the Grand Exposition in Leavenworth on the subsequent October 6th, where apples, potatoes, and corn from Miller County took the top prizes.

The Fair was operated by the Association until 1878 when the county commission voted to purchase the land and buildings that had been erected.  Until that time, the Fair had been operated as a quasi money-making enterprise, with entry fees for the exhibitors and a small admission fee at the gate.  The national recession in 1873 reduced the income of most people in Miller County and the 10 cent admission price kept many people away.  After five years of small profits and intense discussions among the Association members, the decision to sell the Fair was made and subsequently it has been supported as part of the property tax collected by the county.  The county commissioners appoint a Fair Board which oversees the operation and maintenance of the Fairgrounds, and manages the many events that take place over the run of the Fair each year.

One of the most popular traditions of the Fair is the annual baseball game between the non-athletic alumni of the University of Kansas and the alumni of Kansas State University.  The first game was held in 1907 and so far the teams are tied at 50 wins each (no games were held in 1918, 1942 or 1943).  Another tradition is the Lady’s Equestrian competition which has been going on since 1877.  It’s always quite a contrast to watch the rodeo in the afternoon with calf roping, bull riding and barrel jumping and at night see elegant riders and their horses dancing in the arena.

While the Fair in September is the major use of the Fairgrounds, it is made available for other activities, such as the Scottish Highland Games in May and the 4th of July celebration.  One of the most notable and well-publicized events occurred in June, 1874, when the Fair Board agreed to allow Old John Robinson’s Circus to be set up on the Fairgrounds.  The circus had just played an engagement at Topeka and was on its way to Omaha when one of the train cars carrying its animals broke an axel just south of Fremont.  Since it was going to be at least a day before repairs could be undertaken, Robinson decided he could make a few extra dollars by presenting his “moral circus” for the enjoyment of Miller County residents.  Until the early 1870s, circuses were anything but moral, mainly consisting of performers who doubled as pickpockets and hucksters separating the locals from their cash.  John Robinson, on the other hand, work hard to create entertainment that was suitable for the whole family.  His elephants, Tillie and Emperor,  were particular favorites and Dan Rice, the  leader of the clowns, made even the hard-scrabble farmers and their families forget their problems for a day.

These days, the Fair doesn’t have a circus as part of its offerings, but the lawnmower races and Apple Peel Open golf tournament are extremely popular, as is the Sunday morning non-denominational church service and the announcement in the afternoon of the Farm Family of the Year, selected by the Miller County Extension Council.  FFY, as it’s known, is considered a high honor and some years the competition, always friendly and behind the scenes of course, is quite intense.  This year, the Jerry Wilkins family from Longwood, was selected, for the success they have had in converting their 120 acre farm to a CSA (community supported agriculture) operation.  Four years ago, they put one hundred acres in the Conservation Reserve program and began growing vegetables and fruit on the remaining twenty.  They also raise free-range chickens which they supply to restaurants in St. Joseph and Manhattan.  Jenny Wilkins’ Belgian d’Everberg bantams received a blue ribbon and won first place in the poultry division; she’ll be showing them at the State Fair this week.  Jenny and her brother Seth are quite active in the Longwood 4-H Club.  The Wilkins farm was also named a Kansas Century Farm, since it has been in the same family for one hundred years.  Currently, there are only twenty-six Century Farms in the county, a number that dwindles every year.

Now that the Fair is over, Judy can get back to her regular hectic schedule at the Extension office.  Next up is the annual “discussion” with the county commissioners about the budget.  Always a fun time.

At the Fair, I ran into Dorothy Westover who wanted to make sure that I would include a mention   of the upcoming search for recipes for St. Brendan’s cookbook, to be published in time for St. Patrick’s Day next year.  It seems that every ten years, a new cookbook is published and Dorothy, the food preparation maven of St. Brendan’s, is once again in charge.  This will be her forth edition, having taken over the task from her mother when she, Dorothy, was in her late twenties.   Dorothy probably rescued the cookbook from imminent demise or at least a sort of perpetual limbo.  At the time in 1972, Dorothy’s mother, Gladys, had just been diagnosed with a serious chronic illness and she knew that she had to give up her work on the project.  No one else in the church wanted to take on the task, and reluctantly, Dorothy agreed.  Thus began her fascination with that noble creation known as the cookbook.  Now, it must be admitted that some people regard her love for cookbooks as an obsession rather than simply a hobby or even avocation (Dorothy has published six cookbooks on her own, in addition to the four St. Brendan’s editions); she has, after all, a collection of over eight thousand cookbooks from all over the world, stuffed into every nook and cranny of her house.

I assured Dorothy that I would remind readers that the hunt was on for new and delectable formulations for her work.  However, Dorothy and I both knew that the eventual publication would be little more than a rehash (a little cookbook pun, right?) of the previous one hundred years of St. Brendan’s cookbooks, the first having been produced in 1912 as part of the church’s annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration.  Now beyond the name, the church was not then, nor is it now, home to a lot of folks of Irish descent, so holding a St. Patrick’s Day celebration was a rather unusual choice for an event, but somehow it caught on and in anticipation of the corned beef and cabbage and boiled potatoes that were served at that first gathering came the cookbook, filled with recipes that had only the faintest connection to Ireland or Irish culture.  In fact, if you categorized the entries by national or ethnic origin, you’d probably conclude that most of the offerings were from people of German heritage, but you’d be wrong.  While there were German settlements in northeastern Miller County, this part of the territory was an enclave of people of mostly Scots and English descent, folks, however, not known for their cuisine.  So, once again, just in time for the March 17th congregation, St. Brendan’s will have the 100th anniversary edition of the Erin Go Bragh Cookbook.  Ah, the tradition, incongruous as it is, continues.

No shrinking violet she, Mary McCready called to see how I am doing with my painting for the Miller County Art Fair, coming up in a month or so.  Mary says that there are thirty-two artists signed up for the event and she has pledges in the amount of $2000 for purchase awards and prizes.  She is also excited because the assistant curator of the Albrecht-Kemper Museum in St. Joseph has agreed to judge the art this year.  Next year, Mary hopes to make the Art Fair a juried event since it has grown so quickly.  I hope the prospect of having their work scrutinized and culled doesn’t scare off our local creative class, especially the ones who consider themselves “outsider artists.”  Well, of course, that includes me, since I’ve only had one art class in my life and that was way back in high school, as did Harry Morris, who creates what everyone agrees is “interesting” yard art out of objects he rescues from the illegal dumps that pop up around the county every spring after people have had their first unsuccessful garage sale of the season.  Harry’s art is the very extreme definition of “outsider art.”  I wonder what the curator from St. Joseph will think of it?  She’ll probably “discover” Harry and in a month, he’ll have a solo show at Larry Gagosian’s gallery in New York and then be whisked off to Art Basel.  I can just see Harry in his new pair of overalls cashing his $50,000 checks at the Farmers Bank in Fremont.  In the mean time, he, and I, will have to be content with our aging Carhartts.

About stclairc

Abstract artist, photographer, writer
This entry was posted in Art, Dada, Observations, Serendipity, Small Town Life. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Fair, Weather, Friends

  1. Inder Talwar says:

    It was so nice to read about Kansas 4 H club also about The Wilkins Farm now known as Kansas Century Farm for over 100 years. It was also interesting to learn how the fair was started by 16 members of the Agricultural and Mechanical Association by each contributing $ 500 for the purchase of 20 acres of land and constructing the lime stone building , where fair for livestock, fruits, and vegetables were and more judged today. It was a very inovative idea ! Very happy to learn the way it has shaped . I come from Gwalior ( Madhya Bharat now Madhya Pradesh, India Agriculture College ) . I am of 75 years of age and I remember of one Mr Eslinger perhaps a year or two elder well over 6 ft in height coming and having a farm in Kansas , and had come to Gwalior Dairy Farm Ltd in the year 1953-54 on a exchange programs from Kansas 4 H club. I have lost contact of him , if he can be traced please give our regards to him if he recollects The Sharma’s, Kocher and Talwar from Gwalior .If he is traceable please let me have his e- mail address . Wishing you all and Kansas 4 H Club And its members all the happyness . With Regards Inder Talwar

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