When the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the Elkhart County 4-H Fair, the Clayton family and their friends took matters into their own hands.
For Brian Clayton, the show had to go on for his wife, Belinda “Bee” Clayton, who has terminal cancer.
“We know she’ll be in hospice shortly,” Brian said, “so she’s getting to see the kids have fun this weekend.”
Family friend Rhonda Thwaits, who helped organize a mini fair at the Claytons’ home on C.R. 142, explained Bee was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer, which is a form of ovarian cancer that affects the lining of the abdomen and organs, about five years ago. Thwaits said Bee went through two rounds of chemotherapy and a couple of surgeries. She added that the last round of chemo in April was rough.
“They released her and said there’s not much (they) can do,” Thwaits said, adding that the type of cancer generally has a five-year survival rate. “She’s been a real trooper through it all. We wanted to give her one more fair; it was such a big part of their lives.”
The Thwaits and Clayton families have camped together at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds for about 25 years, Rhonda explained. The pandemic didn’t stop them this year though. Instead of camping at the fairgrounds in Goshen, the campers set up on the Clayton property.
MINI FAIR SCHEDULE
The families planned four days of events, and added in fair food such as pork burgers, mini doughnuts and Nelson’s Port-a-Pit. The campers began to arrive to the property Thursday, when the pool was open all day. Thursday night the families lit the opening fire and had a “special presentation” in which Randy Sharkey offered the family helicopter rides. The fairgoers gathered around the campfire that night and made s’mores.
The Friday festivities started with a pancake and sausage breakfast, kiddie games, a water slide, dunk tank, a painting-with-toes contest and a chili cook-off. A fair queen contest was held Friday evening with 10 contestants.
Bee, who was made honorary queen during the event, said it was the first time she’s been crowned a queen. “I’m just glad I didn’t have to compete for it,” she said, “those girls looked great and had fun.”
Rhonda said they presented Brian with a green jacket as honorary fair president. A golf cart parade was also held, followed by a round of the Newlywed Game, campfire stories and fireworks.
Saturday morning’s breakfast was mini doughnuts, followed by a mile walk by some participants for Bee. There was a frog jumping contest, which included small frogs to large bullfrogs Brian had gathered for the event.
Each frog got three hops until their last hop, which was marked. Reagan Beasley was the winner of the children’s division with her frog reaching the 8-foot line. Regan’s grandfather, Dave Thwaits, was the winner of the adult division with his frog, which jumped about 6 feet. All frogs were then returned to their natural habitat in the pond after everyone participated.
A chalk drawing contest was held after the frog contest and, the day also included a kickball game, a visit from the Kona Ice truck, and bingo.
The Saturday evening festivities included a hay ride, kid’s dance and an outdoor movie.
On Sunday morning, a breakfast of biscuits and gravy was served. The day also included a church service and cornhole tournament before a closing ceremony was held and the fire was put out.
‘LOVE MAKES EVERYTHING OKAY’
Bee laughed as she watched events throughout the fair and said, “It’s just brought so much joy. You know, you look at your rewards in life but when you’re surrounded by family and friends there are no greater reward or blessing. It’s so important. Love makes everything okay.”
Bee said she was disappointed when the Elkhart County 4-H Fair was canceled, but Brian refused to let her miss the fair.
“We’re not missing fair,” Brian told Bee at the time. “You are going to experience fair.”
Bee explained that the fair was a big part of their lives and the grandkids always look forward to it every year and participate in as many fair activities as they can.
“It’s a fun, family time so I was disappointed for the grandkids and all the 4-H kids,” she said.
As for their private, mini fair Bee said the best part was hearing the kids laugh and enjoy themselves.
“It means a lot that everyone wants to make memories with you, and share time,” she said. “It’s a fun time enjoying life.”
Brian and Bee have two daughters, Brooke and Bailey, and four grandchildren, Cohen, Graham, Ryan and Katie. Aside from their immediate family and the Thwaits, there were about eight other extended family and close friends camping and participating in the mini fair, according to Brian.
Like his wife, Brian said what he’s been enjoying the most is seeing the kids have fun.
“Remember to live life and count your blessings,” Bee added. “Life is good.”