MARSHALL - Whether it's the perfect pie, the biggest cabbage or the best wood carving, it's hard to imagine a county fair without blue ribbon winners. And although fairgoers may never get to see them in action, it takes a lot of people to help make those ribbons possible.
"It is exciting. I look forward to it every year," said Gail Kvernmo, a retired teacher from Hendricks who judges at several county fairs a summer.
Kvernmo was one of many area residents gathered at the Lyon County Fairgrounds early this week to help judge fair entries. While livestock judging events take place during the fair, with an audience gathered around the show ring, judging of the open class entries and non-livestock 4-H projects is done in the days before the gates open to the public. Judges, assistants and open class superintendents had the exhibit hall to themselves Tuesday afternoon. The 4-Hers had finished their judging on Monday.
Photo by Deb Gau
Judge Gail Kvernmo listens as 4-H member Stephanie Kimpe explained the techniques she used to make a painting during pre-fair judging this week. Kvernmo said working with the 4-H kids is her favorite part of county fair judging.
Every judge has their own areas of expertise, Mary Tetrick explained. Tetrick, a Lamberton resident, was in Marshall Tuesday to help judge vegetable entries. Part of the challenge of the job is never knowing what kinds of entries will be waiting for you in a given year, she said.
"Some years, you get so many of one thing," Tetrick said. "You could have 30 tomatoes, and trying to find the best one out of 30 is hard." Sometimes it's just the opposite, especially if the growing season has been harsh.
"It's been a tough year for vegetables," she said, so there have tended to be fewer entries.
Around the hall, other area judges were going to work. Seated at a table in front of shelves of homemade preserves, Marie Henriksen examined a jar of jam, checking its seal and appearance before taking a taste. In the next aisle over, judges Marv and Diane Patten were comparing entries of marigold flowers to determine a ranking. When judging floral entries, the Pattens said, there were general rules they followed. Uniform blossoms and freshness were important.
"And you want them to be clean," Marv Patten said - no spots or bugs.
Many of the judges present at the Lyon County Fair this week were residents of surrounding counties, and travel to different fairs during the course of the summer. Some said they never judge in their home county - it's just fairer that way, they said. For some, fair judging has been a part of their lives for years. Tetrick said she got her start when her children were in 4-H. Kvernmo said she's been judging at county fairs for 20 years.
"When it comes to county fairs, I go nuts," Kvernmo said, laughing. Besides judging at other counties' fairs, she will also enter in the open classes in Lincoln County, her local fair.
Judging 4-H projects is one of her favorite parts of the job, Kvernmo said. 4-H judging is different from open class judging, in that judges get to interview the club members about their projects. On Monday, kids stood in line in the 4-H building holding insect collections, art projects and plates of baked goods while waiting for their turn at one of the many judging tables.
"That's the big difference. I love the 4-H judging because you get to go one-on-one with the kids," Kvernmo said. Sometimes the experience can make kids nervous, so she likes to keep the interview friendly, and end with a handshake. "The goal is to make them feel comfortable so they want to come back next year."
Kvernmo said encouraging the next generation of fair judges is also something she hopes to do.
"It's great to have new people," she said.