The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Beerbowers find reward in working for the fair


Diana Zimmerman

Jean and Neil Beerbower were painting the T Building at the Fairgrounds in Skamokawa in preparation for the 2017 Wahkiakum County Fair on Tuesday. The two are devoted volunteers to the fair, and spend many an hour there, getting the grounds and buildings ready for the annual three day event.

Jean and Neil Beerbower can attest, they absolutely work more than they did before they retired.

It's almost fair time, and a lot of their waking hours right now are spent in Skamokawa, getting the fairgrounds ready for the annual event, painting the T Building, installing insulation in the youth barn, watering plants, worrying about bathrooms, and more.

The two were giving the T Building a fresh new coat of paint on Tuesday and talking about things that needed to be done this year, or in the coming years.

"It's volunteers like them that make the fair go," Fair Manager Patty Dursteler said. "Without them it would be a sunken ship."

The Beerbowers moved from Elma to Wahkiakum County in 1988. In 1998, Jean decided that she wanted to enter one of her lovebirds in the fair. It was all downhill from there, as they say. A year later she was the superintendent for the exotic barn. She's now the president for the Fair Foundation. Neil is a member of the fair board.

Neil would bring the tractors down for the fair when he worked for Watkin's Tractors, but he didn't really get involved until the old arena came down under a weight of snow one winter.

"I remember hearing on the scanner that there was a loud crash in Skamokawa and to get a hold of the fair manager, Jean said.

That loud crash brought some clarity for the people that loved the fair, including the Beerbowers. Suddenly there was a great need and that's what brought Neil in through the gate, a more committed volunteer.

"The fair grows on you," Jean said. "I'd be lost without it. And when we almost did lose it a couple years ago, it really upset a lot of people including me. At one time, the fair wasn't getting much from the state and I remember collecting leftover fir trees from one of the timber companies. They were just going to throw them in a burn pile, so I brought them here and sold them."

She also sells donated used books to raise money.

The table money raised at the monthly flea market goes toward improvements in the youth barn. Insulation has been purchased and Neil has been installing it himself.

Dursteler is a paid employee, and so are the handyman and the office assistant that show up for a short period of time during the summer months. The fair is built on the backs of volunteers.

As it gets closer to fair time, more volunteers will show up to get buildings ready and to help people enter their work for judging, as well as everything else that needs to be done during the fair.

"You get the same group, and they're all getting older," Dursteler said. "We're going to be in trouble if we don't get some recruitment from the younger generation."

Fairs are falling out of favor in communities and from the state budget.

They've got funding for two years, but they and other fairs statewide lost a $2 million health and safety grant for this year, according to Neil. In two years, the fair will be visited by a judge who awards points for exhibitions, decorations, and more. The points turn into an allocation of funds from the state.

In other words, funding relies on participation from volunteers, visitors, and the people who enter their jams, knitting, artwork, animals, and more. If the community takes the event for granted, they may lose it.

"The fair has been going for 100 years," Jean said. "This is a place for the old timers to come and just sit and catch up with each other once a year. We don't want to see it become a thing of the past."

"And," Neil added, "It's for the kids. We definitely want to keep it going."

"It's always been the place where everybody in the county gathers and it's like a big family reunion at the county fair," Dursteler echoed. "If we don't have something set in place that is going to make you money, we're doomed and that's coming. I'm looking in the next 5-6 years we're not going to get state money and I want to make sure that this fair runs until my grandkids and their grandkids can come."

"It's not just a 4-H fair, it's a fair for everybody," she added. "This is what we work hard for so we can put it out for you."

Jean is also a volunteer at the Cathlamet library, and a library trustee. Neil has been a volunteer with the Cathlamet Fire Department for 20 years.

The Wahkiakum County Fair is set for August 17, 18, and 19. This year's theme is Denim-N-Diamonds.


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