Mark your calendars! Save the date! August 21 is a special day for celebration. Hunters Community and 4-H Fair, the oldest one-day fair in Washington State, will celebrate its 111th birthday. This year’s fair gives a special cause for celebration because last year’s fair was cancelled for the first time in history due to COVID-19 restrictions. In fact, fair organizers learned only recently that the fair would be able to return for 2021. That led to a lot of last-minute planning for an event that usually requires months of preparations. Luckily, the community members involved have enough grit, determination, and commitment to ensure that this year the fair will go on!
I had the great pleasure of learning the fair’s history and fun fair facts from two of these passionate community members, fair president Rhonda Elliott and fair secretary Linda Somerlott.
They told me that in their quest to “promote agriculture and rural life” the fair brings folks together from Hunters, Cedonia, Fruitland, Enterprise, and Gifford to celebrate agriculture, livestock, cooking, and crafts. It also provides a venue for old-fashioned, country-style fun and community-building, including a parade and a barbeque meal serving 400 pounds of meat. Perhaps most importantly, the fair is a forum for 4-H kids to showcase their livestock and other entries in order to recognize and reward their hard work. Adults in the area are active participants as well, displaying skills from gardening and canning to sewing and quilting, sources of great pride to these rural community members. The fair also provides the opportunity to become state qualifiers for competing in larger fairs where entrants can sell their livestock.
The fair features a parade, often with fair royalty and a Grand Marshall. It’s a fun opportunity for the kids to dress up, decorate their bikes, and ride in the parade. Activities for the whole family with opportunities to win prizes include crosscut saw competitions, nail-driving, and horseshoes. While all these activities promise excitement, it’s hard to compete with the suspense and drama of chicken poop bingo. Here, a chicken is charged with determining the winning number by, you guessed it, pooping on it. Prizes include gift cards of up to $100 and homemade quilts. Children can compete in games like gunny sack races. The last few years saw the addition of birdhouse building which proved especially popular with the kids. Here the youngsters are highly supervised in building the houses from scratch, starting with cutting the wood themselves.
Thanks to the adjacent Columbia School grounds, the fair includes a dog agility course. The school’s baseball field also showcases the horses. The fair simply wouldn’t have enough room without the use of the school. In fact, the school is the fair’s only source of water and restroom facilities.
The school is also the venue for the that barbeque feast, which has a fascinating history. Originally, the only way to prepare the 400 pounds of beef for the dinner was to wrap it in tin foil and burlap bags and bury in a sand pit to cook for 24 hours. Big changes have occurred since then. For one, with the high cost of beef, they switched to pork about 10 years ago. Then, Rhonda and four other community members participated in the WSU Horizon Project which led to an even greater change. The WSU Horizon project is a community education and training program that provides tools to improve the local economy. Rhonda and the others spent two years gaining skills like grant writing and computer technology. Upon completion, participants could choose an item that would benefit their community. They chose an enormous grill that can cook all 400 pounds of pork. Because the fair is still building back after last year’s losses, this year it’s possible they’ll try a different meal: a Homestyle Country Picnic Lunch. This picnic lunch would feature sausages and brats.
Both former fair royalty, Rhonda and Linda shared extensive details about the fair’s history, starting with its inception. The first Hunters Fair was held in 1911 in a building donated by the Foster brothers of Foster Grocery Store fame. Early fair excitement included horse races, much like the Omak Stampede, only on flat ground. In 1940 the fair board purchased the Foster brothers building. The Joe Schwartz family donated land to house the fair. In 1959 the Fair Book was started, serving as a record of all things Hunters Fair.
As fair secretary, Linda is currently the keeper of the Fair Book, which is fitting as she has been involved with the fair her whole life. Her family’s history in the community dates back even farther than the first fair. In her youth, Linda was active in 4-H including cooking, sewing, beef, and even outdoor cooking. She was even a state representative in the 1967 National Convention in Chicago. She remembers when, at the end of the show, everything used to stage items in the fair was removed in order to hold a dance.
Rhonda holds the proud honor of former Fair Queen and continued her fair leadership as a Grange representative for the fair. Now it’s a family venture. Her husband is the fair groundskeeper, and her kids help by collecting garbage and helping keep the grounds clean. She says her kids were “born into the fair.”
The fair relies on countless community members who volunteer to make the fair happen. This includes youth groups, scouts, and adults who volunteer for everything. Randy Gier shares his neighboring land for the outdoor exhibit, that is much like a flea market where crafts can be sold.
In addition, fundraising efforts to keep the fair afloat involve the whole community. The dessert auction that began five years ago has grown especially successful thanks to the strong support from the community. This year the Fruitland Winery donated their space for the venue which Rhonda and Linda described as a “beautiful building” that made for a “lovely” and “delightful” event. They broke previous records for donations this year with no dessert bid less than $20.
Rhonda and Linda expressed huge gratitude towards the community members who help make this fair happen. They also requested that I include a huge thank you to Val Mohney, my boss at the Huckleberry Press, for his extraordinary help in promoting the fair.