Despite generators being brought in to power strings of temporary lighting and water being hauled in as well, the large, red barn on North Bay served as the first permanent structure housing the Kiowa County Fair in three years, and for most that alone made this year’s event superior to the first two post-tornado fairs.

   Despite generators being brought in to power strings of temporary lighting and water being hauled in as well, the large, red barn on North Bay served as the first permanent structure housing the Kiowa County Fair in three years, and for most that alone made this year’s event superior to the first two post-tornado fairs.
   “I think the fair we just had (it concluded Wednesday night) was a hundred percent better than having it in tents,” said Carmen Stauth Thursday morning.  Stauth is the county’s agricultural extension agent and was making reference to the 2007 and 2008 fairs having to use tents for exhibits and activities after the May 2007 tornado wiped out the fair buildings formerly located on South Grove in Greensburg.
   “I know the barn isn’t wired yet and doesn’t have running water yet but the animals were able to be in shade and with the windows we had nice cross ventilation in there,” Stauth continued.  “The people I talked to (during the fair) were really excited about us starting to get our permanent facilities back.”
     While the show barn was useable, the southwest section had to double as the location for the building exhibits’ judging and display due to the community building 100 feet to the south still lacking a finished interior.
   “It was a little dusty and dirty having the exhibits in there along with the animals, but we were able to use plastic to cover them and keep them clean,” Stauth said.  “We gave exhibitors the option of taking their stuff home right after judging but most decided to leave it on display.  I think they were glad to just have a real building to use and wanted to use it (for display of their exhibits) for (the duration of the fair).”
   As someone who’s more than familiar with the assortment of setbacks and complications that have worked against the fairgrounds facilities being closer to completion by this time, County Commission Chair Gene West said he’s hopeful the community building can be “useable” by “late November or early December.”
   That would mean finishing the basic interior work in that time, such as erecting walls, hanging doors, installing wiring and heating/cooling as well as rest rooms and finishing the office space for the media center.
    “Right now it’s (community building) just an empty shell,” West said.  “But we should be able to get going on the interior soon and we need to because the media center trailer will be done by November, for example, and it’d be nice to have office space to go with it.”
   While Fair Board President Doug Melton said having the mostly finished barn available “beat having things under a tent again” he added his group is “frustrated” by what they perceive as getting short shrift in the County’s scheme of things.
   “In my opinion the fairgrounds is on the back burner with (county officials),” Melton said.  “It seems they’re thinking about the media center and whatever other projects they’re looking to finish.  It’s (the fair) a community event and it doesn’t draw revenue.”
    When told West projected the community building being useable by December Melton said that was welcome news.
   “To get the community building done by next season would be tremendous,” Melton said.  “You get that done and you could have different venues come in here.  You could have a lawn and garden show or something like that next spring—something that would bring in some revenue to the community.”
   Melton and his board were likewise frustrated three months ago when the commission said at a May 4 meeting that neither the Memorial Day weekend rodeo nor the fair would be able to use the barn if construction were ongoing because of concerns with liability.  Counting on the barn as a site for concessions and a dance the Triangle Rodeo Club considered moving their event to Comanche County until the County agreed to use of the barn for two nights.  The Fair Board spoke of moving the fair to a rural site before it became evident that financial strains would delay construction work in and around the barn until well after the fair, meaning the barn could double as a site for both livestock and building exhibits.
    In addition to the headaches prompted by delays in completing the fairgrounds facilities, Melton has spoken in the past of a local resistance to the fair itself, speaking last May of there being “several people in the community that would like to see it (the fair) go away.”  Asked about that comment Thursday Melton said, “There’s some people that think of it (fair) as work and would rather that it not happen.”
    He went on to say that when some “heard it (judging of building exhibitions) was going to be in the barn they said, ‘Oh, you’ve got to have it all there in one day and then everything has to be out.’”
    Melton said the exhibitors talked amongst themselves early in the week about that perception and decided to keep the displays in the southwest corner of the barn through Wednesday “to show that it could be done and that it would work.”
   Asked whether the relative success of having all exhibits and the meals in the barn Monday through Wednesday would serve to counteract the undertow of negativity toward the fair, Melton said, “I think this is going to be a lot better PR.  The community enjoyed how the fair came off and with the greater participation we had, like with the increase in building exhibits over last year, I think this will help promote the fair itself and 4H.”
   As for that greater participation Stauth confirmed that both fair and 4H participation is up dramatically in ‘09, pointing out that while “around 30 kids” of the county were in 4H in 2006, the year before the storm, that number dropped to 19 a year later.  This year a total of 39 kids are enrolled in 4H.  Better yet, Stauth said she anticipates even better numbers in the coming years.
   “I anticipate we’ll be able to grow back even more because people see the facilities we’re finishing and get excited about what they can do with it in the future,” she said.
   In addition to enthusiasm generated by the fairgrounds themselves, Stauth mentioned current 4Hers aggressively recruiting new members year round, and particularly during National 4H Week in October.
    “It’s not just younger kids,” Stauth said.  “We had a couple of new members from high school this year who jointed because their friends talked to them about what they were doing in 4H.  That’s important because high school is an age where we usually lose kids because of all they’re involved in at that age.”
   Stauth also said the building exhibits, 4H and open class combined, jumped to “at least two times and maybe three times as many as we had last year.  I think a lot of that is having an actual building to put their exhibits in and next year should be even better.  It’ll be nice to have the community building available next year for that and I wouldn’t be surprised to have even more exhibits then.”
   One thing that West, Melton and Stauth agree on is the up tick in fair/4H participation being an outgrowth of more than buildings and facilities nearing completion.
   “After two years people are starting to get to the point where meeting basic needs (in the wake of the tornado’s destruction) isn’t so consuming a concern,” Stauth said.  “They’re getting to the point where they can start to turn their attention back to other pursuits and activities they enjoyed before the storm—things like 4H and the fair.” 
   West agreed, saying, “I’d think 4H will continue to grow.  I see more young kids than in the past.  It’s hard for parents and kids to have the time to be involved in things like (4H) when you’re trying to pick up the pieces after a disaster.  This fair was a sign that things are starting to get a bit closer to normal