For the love of the fair

Supporters: A group of volunteers, many of whom return year after year, helps the Howard County Fair run smoothly.

August 11, 2002|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Wayne Esaias took off a week from his job as an oceanographer with NASA to spend eight days in a barn in West Friendship talking about bees.

At the Howard County Fair, at the back of a cavernous building filled with exhibits, he stood by a rectangular container with glass panels through which people could view a hive full of bees. He told visitor after visitor why bees dance (to tell other bees where to find pollen), how to spot the queen (he painted her with a white dot), and how important bees are to agriculture. He was joined at times by other volunteers from the Howard County Beekeepers Association.

Esaias, a Highland resident, was one of an estimated 1,000 volunteers who lent their time, talent and expertise to the fair, which ended yesterday. He said he "likes to see the gleam in [a person's] eye when the light comes on" and they understand what he is describing.

Other volunteers sold tickets, organized events, ran livestock shows and answered questions in exhibit buildings. They set up, cleaned up and often showed up every day to lend a hand across the fairgrounds.

Vaughn Turner, fair association vice president, oversees the grounds year-round and supervises the front gate. He said many volunteers are regulars who help year after year. People who are retired often enjoy volunteering for the fair, he said, as do former 4-H members who "can't leave it behind."

It is harder to get people to turn out during the rest of the year to perform maintenance and preparation work, Turner said. But during fair week, "people want to support the activity."

"It's a subculture ... people who love the fair," said Peggy Schultz, who oversees the fair's horse activities. "That's our core of volunteers."

This was the 10th year as horse department chairwoman for Schultz, who has to recruit other volunteers to run 10 horse shows during the eight days. A 12-month Howard County schools pupil personnel worker from Woodbine, she said she plans to take off fair week every year because she loves the horses.

Also, she said, "I think the most important thing we can do for kids is help them find a passion."

Teaching other people, particularly youths, is an important reason many people help at the fair.

"We're very liberal. ... We let people touch things," said Miriam Mahowald, who oversaw the fruit and vegetable displays 12 hours daily with help from her 2-year-old grandson, Zack Werhan. They were joined during that time by another volunteer, Mary King Lyon of Granite.

The women answered questions about the exhibits, handed out samples and shared their knowledge of gardening and agriculture.

Lyon enjoys the camaraderie with Mahowald and the social aspects of the job. "This is where I come to play," Lyon said. "I get to see a lot of people."

Mahowald, who lives in Ellicott City, began helping at the fair when she was a Howard County cooperative extension employee, leading the master gardener program.

She saw that "somebody had to be out here to answer questions," so she took it upon herself to staff the building throughout the fair. More than 10 years later, she still does, even though she has retired.

"It is just one of those things I started doing," Mahowald said. "They needed someone to do it."

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