Marla Calico’s first visit to the Elkhart County 4-H Fair was Monday, July 21, but she’s known about the fair for decades.
The thing that’s notable about that is that Calico is chief operating officer of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE).
Sure, the Elkhart County 4-H Fair has won IAFE awards — most recently for last year’s expansion of our Youth Agricultural Education Area, winning first place in our division for “Special Ag Educational Event for the Public” — but Calico’s connection dates back decades to when Dot Kercher was fair secretary.
“Here was this woman who was the rock-solid foundation of this county fair. That was groundbreaking” when Calico began her work in a county fair as a fair manager. Because of Kercher’s work and her outreach, “The Elkhart County Fair’s always been on my radar,” Calico said.
“This is my very first time to come and see it and I’m thrilled to death. The fair is known through our IAFE circles,” she said. “The reputation is definitely there.”
The staff and 125-member fair board have a reputation for being willing to help out with other fairs. “This fair is very good to share their expertise,” Calico said.
“The reputation that this fair has is a wonderful board base of volunteers that really gets involved, and that really makes it tick. The folks that I know represent a diversity and I think probably represent the community very well.
“That is a very good sign of a fair whose community supports it, not only the support but also the programming that the board and staff have put into it,” she said.
Not only is the Elkhart County 4-H Fair one of the largest county 4-H fairs in the U.S., “it’s one of the largest county fairs period,” Calico said. There are fairs in Erie County New York and Orange and Los Angeles counties in California that reach the millions in attendance, but “you’re talking totally different demographics, you’re talking different weather. When you take those megafairs out of the mix,” Elkhart County’s event stand out. “It’s definitely one of the largest, if not maybe the largest, 4-H fairs,” she said.
The local fair is larger than some state fairs, and on par with the size of state fairs in Delaware, New Jersey and North Dakota.
Attendance-wise, “I’m guessing it’s one of the top 50 fairs in the United States, definitely in the top 100,” Calico said.