SIDNEY — Most area residents think the 2016 Shelby County Fair starts Sunday, but 28 young people who comprise the Junior Fair Board have been hard at work since October to make sure the junior fair goes off without a hitch.
Board members, who must be 14-18, are elected by their peer 4-H and FFA club members in each of Shelby County’s 14 townships. Each township has two representatives. And each is elected for a two-year term. Teens apply to run for the seats. If a teen who is elected can’t serve the full term, a replacement is appointed from among the applicants who weren’t elected.
The group meets monthly beginning in October.
“At the first meeting, we go over suggestions that have been made during the last fair,” said President Erin Gaerke, of Russia. The board considers ideas for new programs or contests. Suggestions can come from anyone, not just junior fair participants. Forms are available in the junior fair office on the fairgrounds and must be submitted by Sept. 18. This year, based on suggestions, the board added a Showman of Showmen competition.
During the fall meetings, members also discuss how the previous fair’s programs turned out: they analyze problems in order to solve them and take note of what went well, in order to repeat it.
All the teens on the junior fair board serve on several committees and departments, each charged with coordinating, running and evaluating a fair program. The Awards Committee contacts former and recruits new donors to sponsor prizes. Contest committees and departments send out scheduling and entry information.
By March, Gaerke said, the information for the fair book must be finalized.
“Things get really busy in May,” she said. “That’s when the entries come in.”
One of the most time-consuming tasks is data entry, said board member Cameron Bowersock, of Anna. The hundreds of entry forms are submitted in hard copy and all the information has to be computerized on one giant spreadsheet. That’s done by board members, painstakingly typing it all in. It takes as many as eight people working two weeks to complete the task. Then the spreadsheets are divided by contest and class and sheets of participants, called class lists, are prepared. Every person who enters a competition gets a class list showing who all the entrants are in his category.
Once someone has entered a project, he can withdraw — scratch — it, but he can’t add another or change his entry. Entrants must follow specific guidelines as published in the fair book and distributed by the clubs.
The committees must then recruit judges for each category of entries. The number of entries determines how many judges are needed.
“We have lists of judges,” said Evan Burden, of Sidney.
“We call other counties if we need more,” added Gaerke. The judges are paid a small honorarium for helping out.
Two or three weeks in advance, the board sends letters to entrants, telling them what the judging schedule will be and what to expect during the examinations by the judges.
Much of the judging takes place in the week immediately preceding the fair. On a busy Thursday this week, Gaerke, Bowersock and Burden were joined by fellow board members Grace Maurer, of Anna, and Hanna Michael, of Sidney, to check people in and make sure judges had everything they needed. Prefair judging has just concluded for this year. Throughout the week, junior fair board committee members worked from 7:30 a.m. to as late as 9 p.m. to set up and oversee the judging process each day.
Each entrant who completes a project is awarded a ribbon and a voucher. Ribbons are ranked A, B and C.
“We haven’t given out any C ribbons in years,” Gaerke said. The vouchers for A ribbons can be exchanged during the fair for $3. B ribbon vouchers are worth $2 each. The awards are made by the judges, based on the quality of the projects.
During the fair, the board oversees all the project judging that doesn’t happen as prefair judging. The full board meets at 10 p.m. every night of fair week to assess what happened during the day and to finalize plans for the next day.
Being a junior fair board member incurs a big learning curve, according to first-term member Burden.
“I have to learn how to do everything properly, so when older kids leave, they leave it in good hands, so we can keep the board running efficiently,” he said.
Gaerke is writing a checklist for next year’s president.
“I had to learn about a lot of committees, not just mine,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, but we all love it.” Her junior fair board experience has pointed her toward her future. She plans to study operations management in agriculture when she goes to college next year.
The board plans a fundraiser during the year. Funds are used to repair and upgrade the junior fair buildings on the fairgrounds and pay for awards that are not sponsored. Each board member is paid 50 cents per hour for up to 100 hours of work per year. Each member works for many, many more than 100 hours.
“They have crazy schedules and they keep giving and giving,” said Gaerke’s mother and a board adviser, Judie.
In addition, many on the board have part-time jobs and participate in school activities, as well as developing their own fair entries.
“Projects, jobs, sports — whew!” said Burden. “But (the junior fair board) is a good group of people to be around.”
Other junior fair board members are Addie White, Sara Maurer, Emma Mertz, Olivia Maurer, Kyle Maurer, Owen Michael, Chare Jefferies, Emily Bohman, Maissen Akers, Madison Allison, Luke Bohman, Caleb Pleiman, Megan Maurer, Cole Tebbe, Carly Drury, Kelsey Zircher, Ben Snavely, Micah Smock, Laura Brubaker, Bradley Burden, Nathan Poeppelman, Allison McCummons and Kaitlyn Ellison.
They are aided by 19 adult advisers.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.