EATON — Preble County residents and fairgoers are glad things have gotten back to normal at the 171st Preble County Fair.
Shannon Longman teaches English at Valley View High School in Germantown. Up until 2020, she attended the Preble County Fair every year to cheer on her niece and nephew, who exhibit goats and pigs for the Junior Fair.
Limitations imposed by Governor Mike DeWine shortly before last year’s fair prevented Longman from attending, however. Gov. DeWine’s office released guidelines heavily limiting activities at fairs across the state, citing failure to enforce mask and social distancing mandates intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“We didn’t come last year – it was very limited,” Longman said. “They didn’t have all the rides and the food and all that.”
Games, rides, and other Senior Fair activities were prohibited under last year’s guidelines, limiting most fairs to a few food service concessions and Junior Fair events. Locally, only immediate family members of Junior Fair exhibitors were allowed inside the fairgrounds, and only then during specific events.
Longman was grateful for the chance to return to the fair this year.
“It’s great. It’s good. It’s a feeling of freedom,” Longman said. “It feels normal.”
Junior Fair exhibitors benefited from the relaxed guidelines most of all, according to Longman.
“The kids work hard with their animals all summer, so it’s nice to see that pay off,” Longman said.
Tom Courtney, a 12-year Eaton resident with two granddaughters in 4-H, also missed out on last year’s fair.
“We missed the fair. We missed the Pork Festival. Those are the two events we look forward to that we didn’t get to attend last year,” Courtney said.
One of Courtney’s granddaughters, 11-year-old Sophie Williams, took home first place in her age group in two categories this year and will soon represent Preble County in the Ohio State Fair. And this time, Courtney said, he got to see it.
“We love watching the animals, the tractor pulls, the demolition derbies,” Courtney said. “The food. And running into people we haven’t seen in a long time.”
Lauren McKee, who’s in 4-H and started showing hogs when she was five, said there were good and bad sides to last year’s more “quiet” fair.
“There weren’t any rides. It was all just people from 4-H and people with animals,” McKee said. “But you could walk down the midway without worrying about being squooshed!”
Lauren’s mother, Sara Wehrley, was glad to see things get back to normal.
“It’s nice to have the things in the evening back – the entertainment part,” Wehrley said. “And it’s nice that our friends and family can come and watch her again. The best part is that people who don’t know a lot about agriculture can get a little taste of it at the fair.”
Butler County resident Judy Bartels is on her third fair of the 2021 season. Bartels, who owns Bartels Christmas Tree Farm in Hamilton, came to see local Junior Fair exhibitor Summer Hacker, who took home the Reserve Champion Award at this year’s llama and alpaca show.
“Her mom is my real good friend,” Bartels said.
Bartels was forced to attend last year’s fair remotely.
“You could watch the shows on the computer, but it really wasn’t the same as being there – talking to the kids, talking to the families. Seeing the animals and all the 4-H displays,” Bartels said. “Just being there, seeing people and cheering for the kids, the 4-H members and the FFA participants.”
State Representative and former Preble County Commissioner Rodney Creech credited the beautiful weather with the fair’s Saturday turnout, which he said beat the previous record by 30 percent.
“This year is great – it’s back to normal. Almost better than normal, really,” Creech said. “People missed it last year, and they’ve been stuck in the house. You walk around and you can feel it, the community pride.”
The fair is usually an all-day affair for Creech.
“I’m here from 6:30 in the morning until 10 at night,” Creech said. “Last year I was out here one day.”
Creech said that interacting with the public is his favorite part of the fair experience.
“Interacting with the people and the kids, getting to do what I love,” Creech said. “A lot of times people won’t call or reach out, but when they see you out in public they’ll come up and say, ‘Hey, I’ve been meaning to talk to you.’ The fair is the highlight of the summer for a lot of people. Including me, honestly.”
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @mproperenglish