Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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March 9, 2013

WHO WE ARE: Thousands flock to the Elkhart County 4-H Fair each year to have fun and learn life-long lessons

GOSHEN — Tim Graber of Goshen has been on the Elkhart County 4-H Fair Board close to 14 years. His time spent with the fair boasts a longer history.

“I grew up in that fair,” he said.

Graber was in the 4-H Lamb Club as a youth, and now his children are, too. He said his father always had horses at the fairgrounds.

“I followed my dad around with those horses pretty much every day,” he recalled. “We were always at the fairgrounds.”

Graber’s childhood involvement with the fair extended into his adulthood. This year, he’s the fair president. He’s also at the helm during a pivotal period for the fairgrounds.

In July 2011, the grounds tripled in size after fair officials finalized a $1.4 million purchase of around 250 acres from Aggregate Industries. The land was to the east of the fair’s then-current 131 acres.

A fundraising drive was undertaken to cover the cost. The debt was retired at the end of August 2012.

Now what? Planning, certainly. Fair officials are looking to the future and assessing their options.

They’re eying a north/south road on the former Aggregate ground that would link C.R.s 34 and 36. Currently, C.R. 34 is the only way in or out of the fair. Graber anticipates an eastward expansion of 4-H programs, too. And providing parking on the “new” acreage is key.

The fair crew is taking a long view in charting the course of a festival that last year notched a gate attendance of 244,883. The visitors came to see the 4-H projects, stroll past the commercial exhibits, eat elephant ears, maybe catch the Styx show — all that and more. They’re the people who help make Elkhart County’s event what local organizers say is one of the largest county fairs in the United States.

With the new acreage, the Elkhart County fair went through a growth spurt. Graber is optimistic about its potential.

“The sky’s the limit,” he said.

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