A Love Letter to the Kansas State Fair

Dearest Kansas State Fair,

Our paths have crossed many times over the last thirty-some years. Memories of when I was a youngster easily come back to me as I walk through the buildings and see the different free things being given away. Quickly, I am taken back to walking those steps with my mother and sister while I tried to fill a bag with as many goodies as possible. The Old Mill was always a must with each turn in the dark place would send a little shiver down my spine all while thinking back to how my grandmother used to ride the same path when she was younger and before some likely heart-broken cynic transformed the Tunnel of Love into a ride of terror.

Then there was college when I would visit you with other Emporia State University Ambassadors on your final day. After serving our time at the ESU booth, my adventures expanded with my exploring the place with friends, and I rode the big slide for the first time. So much of the tasty delicacies were explored while I learned what it was like to be other side of the booth and giving free stuff away to youngsters.

Never would I have guessed the journey of life would bring me back to you, Kansas State Fair, with my moving to Hutchinson to take a job at the local community college. Both the house where I rented and then the house I bought are within walking distance of one of your gates. Suddenly, my one trip a year was turned into four or five with my checking out the free shows, spending much of my free time wandering around, and experiencing the enchanting evenings your lights and energy brought.

Now after my ninth year of living here and making so many more memories thanks to you, Kansas State Fair, it feels right to declare my love and count the top three reasons why.

  1. Your Magical Atmosphere

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Right now, I am writing this from a bench under a tree with the fair train tracks behind me and in front the Old Mill, kids playing in a fountain, and places to buy funnel cakes, roasted ears of corn, ice cold root beer, and tons of other tasty fried foods all while the sounds of Jake Owens from the grand stand intermixes with the cicadas in the trees all around me. The added touches of the almost full moon coming in and out of the view thanks to the cloudy moon and the perfectly cool weather for a September night make everything a tad bit surreal.

Both the day and night transform you into completely different experiences, and both, simply put, can be amazingly wonderful. Whether it is the stunning lights from the concession stands and rides of the Midway or the warm heat of the last-bit-of-summer sun shining down upon the friends, families, and individuals exploring the buildings and the rest of the grounds during the mid-afternoon hours, your atmosphere is one that oozes potential.

There’s the potential to live in the moment and eat something fried or full of calories without thinking about its after effects.

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The potential to buy something I never knew about before the fair but after the showmanship of the seller leaves me to wonder how I lived without it.

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The potential to throw a ring just right onto a bottle and win a stuffed animal prize from a tricky carnival game or test my balance by climbing up what seems to be a simple few rungs of a ladder.

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The potential for paths to cross with people unknown until that conversation opens a connection that could be brief or lifelong. The potential for reunions with people from our pasts that for whatever reason lives had led us in separate directions until they merge ever so briefly once again somewhere on your grounds.

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The potential for times with loved ones that can create lifelong memories that will be cherished for many years later. And the potential for more potentials that can only come from the uniting of so many people and things all in one place thanks entirely to you.

 

  1. Your Celebration of Creativity and Hard Work

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Everywhere one looks, the examples of creativity and hard work are on display. This is the land of jaffles, moinks, bickels, and a whole bunch of other edible delicacies one can usually only find at the fair.

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Sure, they may be tasty, but what truly grabs people’s attention really is the creativity that comes into play. Take your staple itself, the Pronto Pup. A creative reworking of the batter or more than likely creative thoughts behind its advertising transformed a corn dog into a must-have.

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However, even tasty items like the Wheatland Café’s Apple Dumpling is a result of creativity and hard work that has perfected the recipe over the years to make it my favorite time and again.

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The celebration goes far beyond the fried, sweet, and savory things that add to the waistline (which then one could argue connects to a person’s hard work to burn off the devoured calories later). Throughout the fairgrounds one can catch shows of creativity in process including the chainsaw-carved statues, the spray-painted paintings, and the sculpted butter.

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Then there are the entries that range from quilts to cakes to paintings to photos to wine to almost anything else with the only thing tying them together was each came into being because of a spirit of creativity living within its maker.

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Furthermore, the long hours of tireless care appear in each animal with its owner taking so much time to get each furry critter to be state-fair worthy and compete for the purple ribbon. Plus, many of the competitions are not of luck but rather the culmination of so much practice to prepare all for a break-it-or-make-it moment. Then there are the giant vegetables of all kinds that were protected from the elements, watered, and nurtured so they could get a chance to be awed upon by people of all ages.

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All of these are so much more than simple entertainment for the fairgoers but rather pieces of inspirational fruits of hard work that are admired in so many ways.

 

  1. Your Truly Honoring Kansas by Being a Snapshot of the Sunflower Kansas

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Looking at the elements of you, the Kansas State Fair, individually may make it appear like you are nothing more than a random assortment of food, vendors, animals, rides, entertainers, and artwork, but a step back shows you are more like a microcosm of the state, for Kansas is a little of everything across its 82,278 square miles. It has its farms and wide open places, its beautiful tastes of nature, its quirky attractions like none other, its stores, its restaurants, its rides, and its entertainment. And behind everything is that frontier spirit where the American Dream lives on that is embodied so brightly in many of the people at the fair.

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And yes, there are the people. Truth be told, I can think of nowhere else there is such a cross-section of demographics all in one place. A multi-millionaire can walk right next to someone who is barely making it, and both share the same mission to explore the offerings you have brought us this year. Unlike so many things, there is no noticeable social divide. Plus, your Dillons Dollar Day even gives people the ability to get into the fair for either free or only a dollar per person, thus opening up the experiences to many more people who may have been hard-pressed to pay the $10 ticket price otherwise. Then once getting into the fair, there are so many things a person can do for free and have a blast through it all. Whether it is watching the comic hypnotist, cheering on pigs racing each other, or seeing the goats at the free petting zoo, people are brought together to have a good time.

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The people really are one of the truly magical parts of you because you can give faith in a better future. People ranging in ages, backgrounds, homes, races, orientations, education, political affiliations, religions, abilities, and so on are united with a single common goal to enjoy the festivities and celebrate Kansas. This all gives a glimpse and a hope that differences truly can be put aside and people who would often never be in the same place can come together all within an area of only 280 acres and enjoy so many of the same things, thus proving we really are not that different after all.

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Sure, I know there are things people often complain about you, but as we all know, nothing is perfect. The traffic you bring to Hutchinson for an example could be one, but that is still part of your charm thanks to how you attract so many people to come to what I guess I could consider as my home. Plus, with my often being on bike, the long line of cars and trucks on 17th is nothing more than a mere background as I pedal past the people sitting in their vehicles right to a bike rack conveniently placed next to a gate.

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Oh Kansas State Fair, how I love thee. Although you may appear for such a short period of time in my life each year, all that you bring together and all that you stand for provide me with a wealth of memories and experiences not only I but thousands upon thousands of others can cherish for a lifetime.

Needless to say, I will be seeing you once again next year.

With much love,

Ryan

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