While hundreds of thousands of people enjoy the Elkhart County 4-H Fair every year, Dan Clem has an unmatched perspective on the fair.
That’s because Clem, 98, now a Florida resident, served as the fair board president in 1966. He’s back today (Saturday), and returning Monday and Tuesday for harness racing.
He and Bill Miller got involved in the fair at the same time, and things weren’t rosy. “The fair board was broke,” Clem said. After Miller’s year as president in 1965, “he said, ‘You got me into this, you’re serving as president next.'”
In fact, while he’s here for this year’s harness racing, the sport went on hiatus after his year as president. “I came out on Wednesday and there were only 50 people here, so we quit,” he said.
It wasn’t until the middle of the next decade that Joe Blocker brought harness racing back to the fair, and it’s something Clem has enjoyed.
He and Miller made changes to limits placed on fair volunteers, and that’s made a huge difference. “The fair was in pretty bad shape, not like this. There’s no fair like this.
“It’s the community fair. The secret’s the community,” and the thousands of volunteers who make the Elkhart County 4-H Fair happen every year, Clem maintains.
Since the changes, “that’s when it took off. The fair just kept growing,” he said. “I’m proud of it, even though I’ve not had a lot to do with it for years.”
Clem and his wife moved to Florida 35 years ago, but he came back for the fair every year until his wife’s health started to fail a few years ago. She’s since passed, he said, and his son decided it was time to bring Clem back this year. “I’ve got a lot to do, a lot of people to see. I’m only here for 10 days and I’m at the fair for three of them,” he said.
The fair board wasn’t his only involvement here, either. “I was the chair of the dairy association,” starting the first dairy bar in a tent. Now the 4-H Dairy Club runs two dairy bars in buildings on the fairgrounds, one on food row and one near the grandstands. “That helped build the dairy barn and the show arena,” he pointed out.
His family has more than 50 years of 4-H involvement in Elkhart County, with two children showing grand champion dairy cattle and a granddaughter showing a grand champion hog. “It’s a few years before the next generation joins in, but we’ve been a fair family for generations,” he said.
“It’s been great, everything’s been great seeing so many people I’ve wanted to see” on this trip, he said. “I’ve had a good life, no complaints whatsoever. I think my success is making decisions with Christ inside of me. It’s amazing the amount of help that comes unknowingly.”