Ohioan fulfills dream of visiting all of state’s county fairs

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Visiting fairs
Gerry and Mike Klepek look over some historical photos that inspired Mike to visit all of Ohio's county fairs.

VERMILION, Ohio — At one point or another, everyone goes to their county fair.

Well, maybe not everyone, but certainly a lot more people go to their local fair than to another fair — let alone going to all of Ohio’s county fairs.

A Lorain County couple recently completed the 88-county feat, and they have memories and photographs that will last a lifetime.

Mike and Gerry Klepek, both 72, and of Vermilion, live on some farm ground that has been in the Klepek family since at least the 1920s. It’s no longer an active farm, but their interest in farming and rural life carried them to all of Ohio’s county fairs.

It all started with a Pennsylvania atlas that Mike acquired in 1979. In the atlas, he found an historical picture of the Cambria County, Pennsylvania, fairgrounds, from the 1890.

He fell in love with the picture, which depicts horse racing, an exposition hall, dancing hall and a grandstand. The picture made him appreciate the way fairs entertained people then and now, and he decided to set out on a mission to see all of Ohio’s fairs.

Mike and Gerry were no strangers to fairs — they grew up in Lorain County, which has one of Ohio’s largest fairs, and Gerry exhibited 4-H projects there in her youth. But they wanted to take their love of fairs even further — and they took it across the whole state.

Their first visit was to the Belmont County Fair in 1981. Mike had family from that area, and it made sense to start there.

Making memories

It was 35 years ago, but he still remembers walking through the barns and seeing one of the market livestock buyers — Katherine Crumbley — believed to be the nation’s first-elected female sheriff.

And he remembers the musical entertainment — provided by Susan Raye, a performer on the television program Hee Haw.

Family time. Mike and Gerry have three adult sons, Ken, Kevin and Jeremy. When they were boys, different sons went along to different fairs.

Jeremy, the youngest, went to more of the fairs, partly because after the fair, he and his father went fishing. They also spent time tent camping at many of the fairs.

Mike recalls going to the Columbiana County Fair demolition derby many years ago and after the station wagon derby was over they ventured down to see the cars.

“I told him some of the ones in the heat were in better condition than the one I was driving,” Mike said.

On another trip, in Summit County, they were driving a truck and the muffler fell off. They threw it in the back and kept going — hoping to not get in trouble.

Sure enough, there was a policeman in the area. But Mike said there happened to be a truck or tractor pull going on that day, and the policeman just assumed that with the loud exhaust, they were headed to the truck pull.

“When he heard the thing, he thought I was going to be in the event and he said, ‘well, good luck,’” Mike said.

Being persistent

Some fairs, it was just Mike who went, and sometimes he had to hit several fairs a year, or even several in a day, to be productive.

“I had the idea that I’d have to do at least two or three a year to ever get through it,” he said.

Still, he tried to space them out as much as he could, and just completed his last, the Morrow County Fair, in September of 2015.

Morrow County Fair
Mike and his wife, visiting the final fair in 2015.

He said each fair was different — some bigger and some smaller — some with national entertainment and some with local entertainers. But he said they were still unique.

“I would never rate one fair above the others,” he said.

His wife was drawn to the arts, cooking, sewing and photography displays, partly because that’s what she exhibited when she was in 4-H. But they also visited the livestock barns, and anything that was unique to each county.

“He (Mike) likes the pig barns for some reason,” Gerry laughed.

County fair bumper stickers
Bumper stickers that Mike collected.

Mike collected bumper stickers that represented the different fairs, but only a handful had stickers available.

They also tried to eat well at the fairs — not necessarily “fair food,” but food that had a homemade feel, something they could sit down and eat at, like a Grange dining hall.

Mike took various pictures, including one of Jessica Lynch, former prisoner of war in Iraq, posing beside bluegrass singer Rhonda Vincent, at the 2011 Morgan County Fair. Lynch spoke about her experience as a prisoner of war, and her service to the nation.

Lifetime hobby

Now that they’re both retired — Mike from Ford Motor Co., where he worked as an assembler, and Gerry from secretarial work — they have more time to visit fairs.

And they still do, along with Mike’s sister and brother-in-law, who both live in Lorain County and also farm.

And, even though they’ve been all over the state visiting fairs, they still go to their home fair most years. This year’s Lorain County Fair will be held Aug. 22-28, in Wellington.

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