County Fair wraps up after attracting variety of people

It had been 21 years since Jim Hand entered the Champaign County Fairgrounds.

The 57-year-old from Tolono, Ill., took his first trip back two weeks ago, entering an area he thought he would never return to.

“I spent years and years working with the city of Champaign, having to walk around the County Fair with a uniform on,” Hand said. “I thought I was done with that, but now I’m back, this time with a different purpose.”

This time, he’s there to wait for his wife, who was judging one of the food competitions, and to kill time by people-watching.

“That’s one thing that changes,” Hand said. “The events might be the same, the location might be the same, but the people are always interesting.”

There are many kinds of people that attend the Champaign County Fair each year.

There are those similar to Hand, like Robert Welch, a 61-year-old from Urbana, waiting for his wife to judge sewing competitions and hiding from the sun.

“You walk around a little bit, see what’s going on and then you wait,” Welch said.

There are the diehard car show fans, like Robert Miller, a 70-year-old from Newman, Ill., who braves the crowds, the heat and the excitement to show off his 1979 Dodge pickup.

“It’s wearing on me a little bit on days like today,” Miller said, referencing the temperature, which topped 90 degrees. “But I have been to 25 different car shows this summer and I don’t want to miss any.”

There are the people who simply have an addiction to fair food, only available in the summertime.

“I can never decide what I want to get, if it’s corn dogs, or polish sausage or cotton candy,” said Lola Burton, 54, from Philo, Ill. “Or if I just want to be like all the other ‘fair-weather’-goers and hit up the beer tent.”

There are the county fair queens each and every year, the current one showing off her crown and sash and greeting the people at the fair.

“I wasn’t expecting to be here this much, everyday for a volunteer position,” Champaign County Fair Queen Ainsley Reiser said. “It’s almost like a job, but it’s an experience.”

There are the businesswomen, deciding if the fair is a worthwhile investment.

“We decided to take over this year, selling fish like the American Legion usually does,” said Kathie Flaningam, owner of the Apple Dumpling, 2014 North High Cross Road, in Urbana. “I’m not sure if we’ll come back next year; this is a different type of atmosphere.”

There are also the boy scouts raising money for a camping trip, present for business, but still having fun.

“It’s almost time to sneak away and ride a ride or two,” said Robert Bales, 15, from Urbana.

There are the families who enjoy the games and attractions, the military veterans who receive free admission on their appreciation day, the people running the various rides and the competitors from the farms showing off their livestock, horses and crops.

There are the people who come purely to socialize and see who else is around.

“Some people I only see once a year, always at the county fair,” said Gary Gauther, 55, also from Philo. “You see the people at the different events, this is the time to catch up.”

That’s what Hand appreciates: everybody is different at the fair, which ended Saturday.

“You don’t necessarily have to be a fair-goer to be here,” Hand said. “And that’s what makes it interesting.”

He’s just happy to be sitting in shorts and a T-shirt — instead of a uniform — watching the people pass.