Fair preparation brings together a 'family' of 4-Hers

Liz Bumgarner, of Sequim, judges 4-H photography at the Kitsap County Fair on Monday. The fair opens to the public Wednesday. - Leslie Kelly
Liz Bumgarner, of Sequim, judges 4-H photography at the Kitsap County Fair on Monday. The fair opens to the public Wednesday.
— image credit: Leslie Kelly

For many people, when they walk through the gates of the Kitsap County Fair, all they see is the wonderment of a village that has been assembled for their enjoyment.

Not too many of them know just what it takes to set up the fair, and the work that goes into it all year long.

Of course there are the carnival rides and the exhibitors who begin on Monday of Fair Week assembling the Ferris Wheel and the bumper cars, and putting together their displays in the fair's Pavilion Hall.

And then there's the many 4-H volunteers who spend two full days taking in all the entries from 4-Hers, including the animals, the cakes and the hand-sewn dresses. They are on site at the fairground from sun up to sun down two days straight making sure each entry is well displayed and judged by a professional in the field, be it flowers or photography.

"We're like a family that reunites every year at this time," said Wanda Meeker of Seabeck. "We may not see each other throughout the year. But when it's fair time, we're all here ready to do our part."

Meeker has been volunteering at the fair since 1992, when her daughter Emily was a 4-Her competing in home economics and with dogs. It just got in their blood and after her daughter was grown and gone, she stayed on.

She helps put together the family living displays, the needle work and at times helps with kitchen competitions where 4-Hers actually cook in front of a judge. She also leads 4-H clubs and last year put in 170 volunteer hours.

"I love it when the kids do well," she said. "But what's kept me in it is the adults I work with. They are so giving of their time. We've all sort of grown up together. We've seen generations of 4-Hers go through this fair. It's just part of me."

She's also very proud of the Kitsap County Fair and thinks it's one of the best in the state.

Karen Oldham, of Poulsbo, has been working with 4-H since 1987. She started with it when she wanted her kids to learn how to sew.

"I figured it was easier to teach them as part of a group, so we all got into 4-H," Oldham said.

She gives about 300 hours a year to 4-H and thinks 4-H is a way for kids to experience a variety of interests that they may not get at home or at school.

"4-H is great for kids who have an interest in something, but their parents may not have the time or knowledge to help them," she said. "And 4-H today isn't just animals and crafts. It's computers and robotics. We have programs for everyone."

Tracy Coolbaugh, of Poulsbo, has been a volunteer with 4-H since 1996. She had two daughters involved in clothing and arts. Her daughters are now grown, and in fact, one of them now judges entries in the fair.

"I've stayed a part of 4-H because of what it does for kids," she said. "I've seen it first-hand. Just watching them grow and succeed, and seeing their confidence go up -- it's wonderful to watch."

Throughout 4-H the kids are taught to "make their best better" and to "learn by doing," she said.

"Maybe a kid doesn't really shine in school," she said. "But through the exposure he or she gets to new things in 4-H, they get their chance to stand out."

As for Liz Bumgarner, of Sequim, she was on hand Monday to judge the 4-H photography division. Judges are recruited from outside Kitsap County so there's no chance that they are asked to judge entries where they know the exhibitor.

"I'm really impressed with what I'm seeing," she said. "There's some very good photographs here."

A former professional photographer from New York City and Washington, D.C. she's been helping out with 4-H in her own community for the past several years. She likes the idea that kids can show their creativity through photography.

As she walked among the entries, she commented on how unique some of the angles were that the young photographers used.

"When I fill out the forms, I like to write a comment, too, so that I can encourage the kids, and so that they can learn what they might improve on," she noted.

Another volunteer, Bruce Bradley, has put in 32 years with 4-H at both the Kitsap County Fair and the Washington State Fair. He got his start when one of his sons wanted to show rabbits.

"His mother would help out and then, when the leader needed to resign, what happened?" he said, "My wife and I took over the 4-H rabbit club."His 4-H work took him to volunteer at the state level and he averages about 297 volunteer hours a year.

Just how many more volunteer years does he have to give?

"Until they throw me out," he said.

Exhibits by 4-Hers are on display in the Presidents Hall during the fair, and in the animal barns directly behind Presidents Hall.

To learn more about 4-H or volunteer, call Shannon Harkness, coordinator for Kitsap County 4-H at 360-337-7162.


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