Lizzie and her siblings grew up going to the county fair. That week in early August was every summer’s highlight, making up for their lack of vacation due to too little money and too much cow milking. When the man at the gate punched their family ticket each mid-morning, an entire day of people, places, and events stretched before them. Their parking lot picnic of cold meat sandwiches, cookies, and red Kool-Aid from the thermos with a spigot was augmented later in the day by a single-scoop-of-real-ice-cream cone from the Dairy Bar and the one ride permitted each girl each day: Lizzie always chose strawberry and the merry-go-round.
Hot and tired, the family trekked home to River Road late each afternoon, except on Friday night, when from the grandstand they marveled at daredevil drivers jumping cars over ramps and speeding through fire. Although advertised as a “Thrill Show,” the girls were just this once allowed to use their father’s name for it: “Hell Drivers.” Their mother was otherwise very strict about swear words.
As the girls grew, so did their independence at the fair. Impatient waits while Mother chatted endlessly with aunts and neighbors or long hours at the tractor tents while Daddy talked endlessly with fellow farmers eventually gave way to an occasional solo half hour in the 4-H Building or one trip straight to the Merchant’s Building and back for a complimentary cardboard fan. And those long drinks of cold water from the white fountain at the end of the midway were refreshing – and free!
However, 4-H changed everything; and the sisters began determining the family’s daily agenda. They spent all day Monday at the DP&L tent presenting their sewing demonstrations and watching girls from other clubs do theirs. They modeled on Wednesday and Thursday mornings in style shows for overflow crowds and wound down on Friday by collecting their projects and blue ribbons.
When Lizzie reached her teens, she spent each fair day according to her own schedule, much of her time in the 4-H Building. But she also checked out the artwork under the grandstand and walked every aisle of the Merchant’s Building.
She regularly visited the Horticulture Building to view single specimens of tea roses and marigolds as well as themed flower arrangements. There was garden and orchard produce on display next to field grain in jars, with the tallest cornstalks and sunflowers propped in the corner.
She loved comparing the Grange displays – right down to the paper borders decorating jars of canned goods. Lizzie also frequently admired her mother’s banana bread and cloverleaf rolls – and the ribbons she won for them. Rounding things out, Lizzie would stroll through a couple of barns, visit the rabbits, and tour the nature tent.
Halfway through high school was the year Lizzie modeled the brown denim skirt, yellow shirt, and reversible vest she had made for Spectator Sports. During her demonstration, she explained various hemming techniques.
And for the first time, Lizzie entered the Safety Speaking Contest, for reasons she later could not fathom or even remember. There was standing room only when she arrived at the tent that Sunday.
Stepping to the microphone, Lizzie immediately realized she was not wearing the right dress nor had she practiced her speech nearly enough. The butterflies in her stomach fluttered right up to her brain, crowding out every word of her speech. After several rocky minutes, she fled the stage in total mortification.
For Lizzie, the fair ended in disappointment. Oh, she received a blue ribbon for her outfit, but no rosette. She was further dismayed to place only second with her demonstration. And her disgraceful speech experience still stung, especially knowing that her younger cousin had won the entire contest. Her mother urged her to be proud that she had tried her hardest, but Lizzie always wanted to be the best. She was glad when the week was finally over.
It was a different Lizzie who arrived at the fair a year later. Although she had juggled her sewing schedule with a new job at the county library, she was quite pleased with her Dress-Up Dress: a lined jumper in cranberry wool and a pale pink whipped cream blouse with a bow. She did not win a rosette, but she felt pretty as she walked the runway. She also earned first prize with her demonstration about set-in sleeves. And a determined Lizzie returned to the Safety Speaking Contest, appropriately dressed and well-rehearsed. This time she beat her cousin to win.
Lizzie’s hard work and preparation gave her new confidence in that month before her last year in high school. As the safety speech winner, she proudly headed to the radio station tent on Monday morning for an interview, during which she answered questions smoothly, without hesitation. She did not even flinch at an unexpected request to reprise her winning speech, which had unfortunately completely disappeared from her brain. Undaunted, Lizzie covered the misstep by discussing the theme of the now-forgotten speech. What a fair it turned out to be!
Lizzie eventually grew into the adult Elizabeth who for many years helped advise a 4-H club and served on numerous 4-H committees. And Elizabeth took the 4-H mottoes, the ones reiterated and reinforced during those long-ago summers, with her into the classroom, where she encouraged her students to “learn by doing” and to always “make the best better.”
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.