Unbroken chain of prize ribbons links Glenelg woman to first Howard Co. Fair

August 13, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Every year for as long as there's been a Howard County Fair, Elmira Seibert has been there.

Most years, the blue-eyed 71-year-old won ribbons in sewing and cooking categories. She isn't certain what she won that first year in 1946, but her prize-winning 1947 exhibit is still around.

That would be her son, Willis Seibert.

"He was one of the first articles I entered in the fair, under 'Healthy Baby,' " she said.

She can't remember whether he got first or second place, but recalls that the judges thought "he just looked plump, but not overly fat."

Still recovering from an operation on her right hand for carpel tunnel syndrome, and suffering from arthritis, Mrs. Seibert still managed to get three entries ready for this, her 49th consecutive fair -- black raspberry jelly, bread-and-butter pickles and "Silent Night," a quilted wall hanging.

"It's not because I'm expecting a ribbon, but because I've been exhibiting for 48 years, and I don't want to break the chain," said Mrs. Seibert, of Glenelg. Despite her medical problems, she's considering whipping up three other entries for the fair, which opens today near West Friendship.

Mrs. Seibert's unbroken chain could be made of ribbons she won every year since she was a young 4-H leader at the first fair at Brendel's Manor Park. But Mrs. Seibert's presence at the fair is more than that, said Rob Moxley, president of the private, nonprofit Howard County Fair Association.

"I can't imagine her not being there at the fair. She's been helping in the office as long as I can remember; she's been a mainstay of the fair's operation," he said.

Mr. Moxley wouldn't be here today, much less running the fair, were it not for Mrs. Seibert. She introduced his parents to each other a year before they were married during the 1958 fair.

As an example of how times and tastes have changed over the years, Mrs. Seibert points out that she won a blue ribbon for first place in one class of lard in 1948, along with blue ribbons for lemon pie, white cake and tailoring a suit for baby Willis.

"We don't have any lard classes anymore," said Kim Sullivan, a member of the fair association's board who has known Mrs. Seibert all her life. County cooks these days are more likely to be competing in low-fat or no-sugar baking categories.

But Mrs. Seibert hasn't missed a beat.

"I might enter a new category: Bread Machine Loaf of Bread," she said, with no apologies to baking traditionalists. "Well, you've got to measure all of the ingredients you put in that thing. All it does is knead the dough for you."

After all, it was a quick, albeit handmade, loaf of bread that helped to keep the chain unbroken 29 years ago when Mrs. Seibert was about to give birth to her third daughter, Kathleen.

"She was born on the 18th of August, during the Howard County Fair. That was the year I had a loaf of bread and won a ribbon on it. That was the only thing I had time for."

Mrs. Seibert showed the loaf of white bread and won her blue ribbon on a Monday, and delivered Kathleen on Tuesday.

Now all three of Mrs. Seibert's children, Willis, 49, Betsy Elmira Ford, 43, and Kath- leen Seibert Barlow, 29, also compete in categories ranging from hogs to knitting.

One of Mrs. Ford's children, 12-year-old Kara, is entering two lambs, six rabbits, two gerbils and some baked goods for 4-H judging this year.

Mrs. Seibert also started at a young age, but had to start the 4-H tradition on her own.

Her mother, Elizabeth Mullinix, now 89, never competed in the fair, and the only clothing she ever made while her daughter was growing up was aprons.

But Mrs. Seibert's inspiration, however, is never far away.

"See this quilt?" she said, leaning forward on her living room couch and pointing behind her. "It was made by my grandmother between 1930 and 1933, and my mother says that's where I got my sewing ability."

Her other inspiration was the late Beatrice Pfefferkorn, an extension agent during the middle of this century who became the patron saint of Howard County 4-H programs.

A graduate of Daisy Elementary School, now a garage, and Lisbon High School, now an elementary school, Mrs. Seibert got most of what she considers her important lessons on living from 4-H and the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service.

"I took every class that the extension service offered to increase my knowledge," she said. "I got my college education, you might say, through that. I learned how to upholster furniture, I learned how to tailor suits, I learned furniture refinishing, sewing and record keeping."

Although she spent most of her life farming 74 acres in Glenelg with her husband, Byrd Murat Seibert, she worked from 1953 to 1963 as the manager of the West Friendship Elementary School cafeteria before returning to homemaking and taking in seamstress work.

Her work as a seamstress includes having made dresses for entire wedding parties and costumes for the Enchanted Forest amusement park in Ellicott City when it first opened in 1954.

And helping out at the fair didn't stop at the county line. Mrs. Seibert has been a 4-H judge in Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Carroll counties.

But that was "maybe 30 years ago, in my younger days," she said. "I haven't done it lately. When I went on a diet, I stopped judging foods."

The Howard County Fair begins at 8 a.m. today and ends Aug. 20. The fairgrounds are on Route 144 in West Friendship. Information: 442-1022.

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