A history lesson
Fair organizers are getting a handle on where the fair is going. Robert “Doc” Abel is among those with a perspective on where it’s been.
Abel, a Wakarusa physician, is the resident go-to guy on fair history, with good reason. A 4-H’er growing up, he’s been part of the fair since 1934. Abel’s been on the fair board since 1958, serving as president in 1977.
“I saw how important it was for our young people,” he said of getting involved with the fair as an adult.
Abel recalled that when his stint with the fair board began, the group consisted of 12 members. Circa 2013, the number of volunteers is around 130. He also remembers when there were two permanent buildings on the grounds. Today, there are 68.
Over the years, Abel has watched the fair grow and succeed. He attributes the success to volunteerism — and the volunteer spirit is due to the “4-H” in the fair’s name.
“That fair would never be successful if we didn’t have volunteers,” Abel said. “If you had to pay for all that help to run that thing, you could never afford it.”
4-H — the “learn by doing” program administered by the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service — is the central theme of the fair. Last year, 3,404 Elkhart County young people took part in the traditional 4-H program; another 530 first- and second-graders participated in Exploring 4-H. The youths were guided by 452 adult leaders.
In 2012, there were 149 10-year 4-H members in Elkhart County, according to Extension educator Laurie Sula. This year, the county is on track to have 175 10-year members.
“The 4-H program has been a big program in this county for a number of years,” said Stan Knafel, a retired Extension educator now in the new position of fairgrounds coordinator. He, too, sees 4-H as a prime factor in the fair’s success, plus community support.
“You have people here who are very community-minded,” he added. “They want to put together a showcase for the young people, I think, when it comes to the fair.”
And the fair serves as a showcase for the business community as well, according to Knafel.
Graber also sounded the theme of volunteers, as well as community and business support.
“We’ve been very blessed with people in the area who’ve seen fit to donate their own money to that fairgrounds to ensure that we be able to grow and offer new programs and that type of thing,” he said.
In his new role during the fair’s transitional period, Knafel’s duties include fairgrounds management and coordination. He also deals with rentals at the fairgrounds, and assists the fair president.
“When we get closer to fair, we’ll be problem-solving, I’m sure,” Knafel said. “That’s part of the job.”