As a kid growing up in Delaware County, fair week was always one of the best weeks of the year, and one I still look forward to today. It is always a special time. This year is a little extra special for me as I get to experience the fair through the eyes of my 3.5-year-old daughter. Each morning she wakes up and her first question of the day is, “Are we going to the fair today?” (This started out very cute, but it is not as cute after the 35th time she asks the question.)
I am happy to say my daughter has discovered fair food. So far her favorite is the caramel apple on a stick, although all she ate was the caramel and she did not even taste the apple. And, she loves the rides, especially the mini Ferris wheel. It is amazing watching her have these new experiences as she gains more independence going on the rides all by herself.
Each year the fair brings back fond memories of childhood. Back then, my toughest decision was choosing between cotton candy or an elephant ear. We were allowed to choose one fair food as we were leaving the fairgrounds, so this was indeed a big decision, not to be made lightly!
The Delaware County Fair has always been important to my family. My father was the vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor for Elm Valley and Buckeye Valley, and he worked with the Junior Fair while he finished his career at the Delaware County JVS (now known as the Delaware Area Career Center). This meant our lives revolved around the fair for the entire month of September. From planning to setting up, participating, and tearing down, we practically lived at the fairgrounds!
As I grew, the fair was an endless supply of fun. My buddies and I played football in the Coliseum and outside the Pig and Lamb Barn. We played video games in the arcade and games organized by the Junior Fair. We laughed at the funhouse, rode rides, and ate enormous amounts of food, including one of my favorites — fair fries with vinegar. Honestly, the best part was just spending time with friends. A favorite memory of mine, and one that I share with great pride, involves my good friend, Brian Vogel. He and I were reigning champions of both the water balloon toss and the egg throw and catch events for two years in a row. I do not think the Junior Fair keeps records of these events, but if they did, I have no doubt we would still hold the record for the longest distance an egg and water balloon were thrown and successfully caught.
While everyone at the fair always seemed to have a good time, my experience was especially meaningful because of my involvement with 4-H and FFA. I remember thinking I was a big kid when I was finally old enough to show animals like my much older brother and sister. I do want to emphasis the “much older” descriptor because I continue to be asked by many people if I am the oldest child. Clearly, they mistake wisdom for age!
Being the youngest did have its advantages. I learned a lot watching my older siblings, and when it was my turn, I used that knowledge to show lambs and pigs. I always had a great sense of accomplishment when they were sold. I worked hard raising the animals and felt proud to see the fruits of my labor.
I learned many things from the fair — not the least of which were some new vocabulary words I picked up in the arcade and walking through the midway! On a more serious note, I learned valuable life lessons of hard work, commitment, patience, and delayed gratification that have impacted my life and helped me to succeed.
One thing I dreaded, though, was completing the final budget for my 4-H and FFA projects. I remember sitting with dad at his desk, going over receipts and adding up income and expenses. At the time it was one of my least favorite things, but looking back, I can see that unsavory task was an invaluable life lesson. Talking about and understanding money, finances, and budgets at an early age lays the groundwork for responsible financial decisions in everyday life. Thanks to my dad, I learned early on about the difference between fixed and variable expenses, and the simple (yet difficult) principle to spend less money than you make. It was a cornerstone life lesson, and something I hope to pass along to my own daughter.
From rides to food, animals to life lessons, the Delaware County Fair has something for everyone. For me, it was the place where working hard and goofing off with my friends came together for some of the best memories and lessons of my life. That’s why I still believe fair week in Delaware County is one of the best weeks of the year!