Fair-goers visiting the 4-H building this week will find a relatively quiet, air-conditioned room with exhibits placed in an orderly manner. That’s the opposite of what went on there Monday. Voices combined into a roar in a packed room with young people and grownups moving in all directions at once, but order grew from the chaos in this corner of the Platte County Fair at Tracy. Sharen Hunt, the University of Missouri Extension director for Platte County, answered questions and directed traffic in a busy beehive of earnest folks. Within a few hours, a year’s worth of 4-H members’ work ended up organized into displays with ribbons of blue and red, thanks to club leaders and judges. Hunt deserves a large, purple, Grand Champion ribbon as an organizer of volunteers. The projects displayed ranged from cured hams and a wooden picnic table to a demonstration about what feed is best for chickens as they grow from chick to hen, rooster or something that tastes good on your table. Not everyone can find people among the community who can judge chicken feed posters or handicrafts, but Hunt and the people who work with her in 4-H programs apply energy and dedication for the benefit of youngsters. Several of the judges volunteering Monday were once 4-H members. They’re passing encouragement on to newcomers. A community does not thrive on taxpayer and business services alone. Volunteers add energy and spice. Sometimes they add basic sustenance. The good done by volunteers at churches and charities that aid the poor are immeasurable. The Platte County Fair wouldn’t be celebrating 151 years of continuous running this week if not for volunteers. On Monday, some were pausing by the Dirty Shame after an afternoon of cleanup and fix-up chores. The temperature was in the mid-90s at sunset. You must be pretty loyal to the fair to show up and do whatever is needed to take tickets, sell krautburgers or fix up an arena for a demolition derby or a mud-a-thon. Take away volunteers and you lose things that make a community unique. Not every county in Missouri can boast that they have a good mule show on a Thursday night. Those who play bluegrass music on Thursday nights at the fair have wondered if the two simultaneous events are cosmic coincidence. I suppose the number of people who appreciate a good mule is getting scarcer with time. But then, those who wish for something more adventurous than channel surfing through inane television programming might enjoy unfolding a lawn chair near the show arena on a summer night. You don’t have to know a Jack from a Jenny to enjoy watching people and mules. The crafts, pies and vegetables are on display in Floral Hall, too — real things enjoyed by real people. Keith Myers’ display of historic photos in the same building is not to be missed. Maybe I met on Monday a young person who will carry that photographic torch forward far into the future. I helped judge the 4-H photography contest. Like in all the exhibit categories, the youngsters talk to the judges about their photographs. They explain why and how they took them. Many pictures were taken with cellphones, aka handheld computerized do-it-alls, but even these were often quite good and you could see in the photos young minds thinking, composing, seeing. That’s a hopeful thing for the future. Somehow the fair seems to simultaneously mark time and remain timeless. But it takes people of all ages with the gumption to get up and go to make it so.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.