The Crow Wing County Fair has turned into a family affair for LeRoy and Dorothy Thompson. With 15 family members who have been or are currently involved in some way at the fair, "family reunion" takes on a different meaning for the group.
During fair week, you're likely to find any one of the clan at the fair, at any time during the day.
Dorothy Thompson herself was involved with the 4-H Club as a child, and her father, Birney Wilkins, served on the county fair board for more than 50 years and the state fair board of directors for close to 12 years.
For the last several years, Dorothy has renewed her activity at the fair. She's entered 30 or 40 different pieces in the baking competition every year for close to six years.
"I'd start three or four weeks ahead of time," said Thompson, who chose not to enter this year because of a lack of time. "I'd pick out the best ones, and freeze them, and the family ate the rejects ...
"Very few people, when they walk through and look at the exhibits, have an idea of how much time goes into making an exhibit."
Dorothy's and LeRoy's three children, Dale, Bruce and daughter Bonnie Hillman, all were involved in 4-H as children. Hillman is still involved as a member of the fair board and the caretaker of the Birney Wilkins Memorial Garden. Dale has stayed active in the fair in recent years helping with the livestock, and for a few years as a member of the livestock committee. Bruce and his wife, Terri, are in charge of the Family of Christ booth this year.
All three of the Thompson children have their own children who keep them busy at the fair every year.
Bruce and Terri Thompson's two children, Ellie and Stafford, both entered pieces in the fair this year. Stafford, a member of the Cloverleaf 4-H club, entered six exhibits this year. Bruce said some exhibits, such as what Stafford did for his rocket projects and his rock display, took a month or more to prepare.
"With the rock project, he had to find the rocks, ID them and then write something about them," said Bruce. "The last couple of weeks before the fair things get a little busy getting ready."
Ellie entered cookies, for baking, as well as projects in the Fine Arts and Youth buildings. She hopes to start with the Cloverleafs next year.
For brothers Nathan and Tyler Hillman, the fair is all about their 4-H projects -- swine, aerospace and shooting sports exhibits. Both brothers are involved in all three areas, but Tyler has been in 4-H for six years, and Nathan for five years.
Nathan said he likes actually being at the fair the most, and his mother said the family gets busy during the summer months, especially preparing for the fair.
Their parents were involved in 4-H as children.
Sisters Amber and Sarah, daughters of Dale and Lori Thompson, both were involved in 4-H and Future Farmers of America when they were younger, and their sister, Rebecca, is still entering exhibits at the fair. Rebecca was busy keeping her sheep and pigs clean Tuesday afternoon. She also enters a dairy heifer in the fair, and takes part in the cooking and shooting sports exhibits.
Sisters Amber Thompson and Sarah (Thompson) Dano both went to the State Fair several years in a row after showing at the county fair, said Dano. Both sisters were involved in 4-H and FFA for about five years.
"It's a good way to meet a lot of people," said Amber.
"The Sunday night before the fair is always really busy," said their mother, Lori. "It's horrible -- a lot of washing and scrubbing the animals and cooking and all."
Dano said that after her last year of showing at the fair, she donated her sheep, Patty, that she showed for five years to the high school farm. Her father, Dale, has donated livestock to the FFA barnyard as well.
Dorothy Thompson said she started to get involved with fairs again after Amber and Sarah joined 4-H.
"It's just kind of fun to come and look at everything the kids have done and hear them come home and tell me all about their time here," she said. "I think just exhibiting at the fair, though, is getting them a lot of experience. It's a learning process all the way through."
Dorothy said tradition is a big part of why her family has remained so involved at the fair. "It's probably just the history. I grew up with fairs, they were just a part of my life. And they've all been brought up with fairs."
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