(The rural ag scene is made up of many people who often go unrecognized. In 2016, our Rural Roles series will feature some of those personalities, and why their voices are so important to agriculture.)
WOOSTER, Ohio — Tanya Marty has not missed a year or a day of the Wayne County Fair in 44 years. “I have not a missed a fair since the day I was born. Even when I wasn’t born yet, my mom was here pregnant with me,” she said.
Casually walking the grounds near the dairy barns, she shares stories of her show days, walking cows across the bridge to the arena, sitting in dairy barns with friends playing card games between shows, and remembering those peaceful Sundays spent with family. Her face lights up when she talks anything Wayne County Fair and it was only natural that her love for the fair would land her a position on the fair board six years ago.
But what is it like being the only woman on a fair board that has been predominantly male for many years? “When people ask me that question, I just say, ‘yep, I’m one of the guys,’” she said.
One of the guys
“It takes the right kind of female to be able and willing to work alongside the rest of us,” said Tom Stocksdale, fellow fair board director. “I give her credit, she hangs right in there.” According to Stocksdale, Marty is willing to jump right in wherever she is needed. “She fits in nicely because she can talk ag, and she can talk techie stuff,” he said.
“Social media is probably the biggest thing she has brought to the board,” helping bring them into the world of Facebook and Twitter. Marty also helped revamp the fair’s website by including online entertainment ticket sales. Stocksdale said Marty, as one of the younger board members, brings a new perspective and fresh approach to how things are done at the fair.
But where are you most likely to find Marty during a busy fair week? Probably close to the dairy barns and the Coliseum.
All things dairy
Marty’s love of the dairy industry, particularly for cows of the black and white variety, started on the family farm in northcentral Wayne County. Marty helped her parents, Jim and Maryann Marty, milk, feed calves, unload hay and many other chores on the 180-acre farm called Sky-Home Farm.
“I am an only child, so I didn’t have anybody to say, ‘why don’t you go unload that hay,’ or ‘why don’t you go feed the calves,’” she said. The Marty family raised registered Holstein cows and milked up to 60 head in their tie-stall parlor. Marty said her father quit milking two years ago, but still continues to raise heifers.
As a family, they took their Holsteins to county, district and state level shows, and Marty was active in both 4-H and FFA and was the president of her high school FFA chapter. “I got to travel that way; otherwise, as a farm girl, I wouldn’t have gotten out much.”
She said a family outing or “vacation” typically involved a trip to the fair, an auction or other dairy-related show or sale. “There was only three of us, and somebody had to be there at the farm,” she said.
4-H and FFA programs and getting youth involved in agriculture are still important to Marty. She has served as a dairy adviser in local 4-H clubs for the past 25 years and heads up the Wayne County Dairy Princess program. “I can’t say enough about 4-H and FFA — the friends, the scholarships and opportunities available (for youth),” she said.
“But as far as seeing the difference a program can make in a person, for me, it’s actually been in the dairy princesses program.” Marty said she has been heading up the program for more than 20 years and started the junior dairy princess division of the contest. She recalls the impact the program had on her first junior dairy princess, who would go on to become the senior dairy princess.
The girl had wrote Marty a thank you for helping her through the program and said that being a dairy princess changed her mind about what she wanted to study in college. She hadn’t planned on studying anything related to agriculture, explained Marty, but attending events and doing some public speaking as a dairy princess encouraged her to pursue a career in agriculture. “Now she is back on the family farm,” said Marty. It was moments like that, that solidified why Marty does what she does.
Along with starting the junior dairy princess contest, Marty was part of the committee that launched the mini-showmanship contest during the Wayne County Fair. Marty was volunteering her time on many committees, mostly related to the fair and dairy industry, when she was approached about running for a fair director position.
“I had helped out with the county skillathon for 20 some years and somebody said to me, ‘Tanya, why don’t you run for fair board?’” she said. At the time, one of the current members was retiring and, as it so happened, the retiring director had been voted into the position after Marty’s grandfather, Herpel Miller, retired from the fair board years ago.
“I thought, ‘I don’t know,’ because I was so involved with everything else,” said Marty. But she decided to go for it and got in. Marty is currently serving her second full term (six years) on the Wayne County Fair Board.
On the board
“What really helps sell Tanya is her love and knowledge of the dairy industry,” said Stocksdale. “Tanya fell into the whole position very nicely and is very well respected.” Marty serves as assistant superintendent of the dairy department alongside Dairy Superintendent Roger Sprang.
“She is very detail oriented,” said Sprang, who noted her work with the junior fair dairy auction. Each year she has made it a little better by pulling in better items to raise money for the dairy youth, said Sprang. He also pointed out she announces most of the dairy shows during the fair.
Marty also serves as the junior fair liaison — serving as a link between junior fair board members and senior fair board members — is a member of the entertainment committee and the tractor pull committee, where she also announces tractor pulls during the fair.
Marty said she has been appreciative of how welcoming and respectful her fellow fair board directors have been to her over the years. One of her favorite fair memories, when she began her term, was proving to the other male board members that she could handle anything they could handle.
On the Sunday before fair week, more than 500 benches are brought out to be placed around the fairgrounds. “I call it the sea of gold,” said Marty. Her first year on the board, she volunteered to help with bench set up (and she has done it ever since).
Fair Board Director Craig Garrett was in charge of the set-up process and told Marty, “Hey you want to get on the skid steer here and get these benches,” to which Marty responded with, “sure.” What struck Marty was the way he asked it.
“I guess I looked at it as most guys wouldn’t have came up to me and asked that, let alone asked if I knew how (to operate it),” said Marty. “He just said get on that.” Off course, Marty admitted it was a little different from the one she was used to at home — it was newer — but Garrett showed her what to do. “I had a lot of respect for Craig just asking me and not questioning me. He didn’t really know me,” said Marty. “I really miss Craig,” she said. Garrett died of a heart attack in 2014.
Since then, Marty has found her way into the group, giving the guys just as much “heat” as they give her. “She’s not afraid to work,” said Stocksdale. “She pulls her weight and has been very well respected for how she jumps right in there to get things done.”
“It’s very physical,” said Marty, who remembers a lot of late nights on the grounds her first few years, moving gates, tearing out old wood and painting. “You got to be able to do some physical things.”
Check out other stories in our Rural Roles series:
January: Amish farmer and author shares story of the simple life.
February: Mary doesn’t have a little lamb, but she is a friend of the sheep industry.
March: Connie Finton volunteers off the farm to build quality of life for her family.
April: Conservation and cattle: Pete Conkle knows them both.
May: Gerards helped give equine trail riders miles of opportunity.
August: Tuscarawas County farmer answers the call of his industry
September: It’s all because of the Jersey cow
October: Risky business: Tire repair has its share of dangers
November: Family tradition, trees and rescue
Still, it’s Marty’s love of the fair that keeps her working those late nights in between her full-time job as a dental assistant. “It’s a passion. We don’t get paid. It’s a love for the fair, and it’s got to go deep,” she said.
“I love fair history,” she added, as she has made it one of her projects, alongside another fair board member, to collect old pictures and items from the community. She said, one of her goals as a fair board member, is to always look for things to make the fair better — keeping it new and current but also keeping traditions alive.
“People say Wayne Country is so slow in making decisions, and I’m kind of proud of that,” said Marty. “We don’t just jump on the bandwagon.”
“I want (the Wayne County Fair) to keep that agricultural feeling, I don’t want it to get too commercialized.”
Five minutes with Tanya Marty
Hometown: Sterling, Ohio
Family: Fiance, Jim Calame; Jim’s children, Erica and Jared, and three grandchildren.
First job: Nonpaying, the family farm; first paid job, dental assistant
Best family fair memory: “Sundays, when I was little, my grandpa, Herpel Miller, would take me on the rides. The double ferris wheel was my favorite.” Now Tanya takes her grandson, Jayce, on the ferris wheel every fair they go to.
What did you want to be when you grew up? A veterinarian. Although she never pursued this career, she said she enjoyed giving shots and caring for cows on the family farm.
Favorite quote: “It’s the little things that make a great fair.”
What “little thing” makes the Wayne County Fair great? The $3 entry price
What’s one thing on your bucket list: To attend all the county fairs in Ohio. She has already been to half.
Favorite fair food: Elephant ear, fresh squeezed lemonade and gyros
Something everyone should see/do at the Wayne County Fair: “It just has to be all of it.” From the antiques, to the flowers, to the tractors, “there is just something for everyone. And if you are little, you have to play in the creek.”
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