When Charles Knighton began volunteering at the Platte County Fair in the late 1940s, he was just a boy.
His job was to help clean out the horse barns to prepare for the fair’s countless equestrian events. He still remembers tearing off newspapers from the walls of the horse stalls that chronicled Babe Ruth’s record-breaking home runs.
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“I didn't realize how important that might be then,” Knighton said, “so we just put them in the trash and burned them.”
More than 60 years later, Knighton will turn 78 this summer. And he remains a Platte County Fair volunteer. These days, he’s known as the fair’s general handyman and tackles everything from electrical fixes to working the gate during the five-day event that runs this week.
“All those years. we’ve been kind of piddling and working and trying to improve it every year,” he said.
Knighton isn’t the only volunteer with a long history with the fair. As the Platte County Fair celebrates its 150-year anniversary this summer, many of those who make the event possible are reflecting on their own rich and vibrant histories with the yearly summer event.
“I don’t know when the first fair was that I attended,” said Monty Kay Clark, chair of the fair’s horse show. “I have no idea, because I have just always gone.”
Contrary to its name, the Platte County Fair is not a county event. Instead, the fair is privately owned and run by 100 stakeholders who manage the non-profit organization. Since the fair’s inception, many of the shares have been passed down from one generation to another.
That is the case for Judy Turner-Davis, the fair’s current board president, who received her shares from her father. He was a stockholder and board president in the 1950s and began bringing his daughter to the fair at an early age.
“I was kind of raised over there,” Turner-Davis said.
She remembers getting a unique, up-close view of the fair as she watched the concessions and rides come to life each year before the doors would officially open.
But the first sign that the fair had arrived was always the Ferris wheel, she said, a ride she could see stretching into the sky as she rode to the fairgrounds each year with her dad.
“My heart would almost stop because it was time for the fair again,” she said.
Clark can trace her family’s roots at the fair to the very beginning 150 years ago — when several of her great-great uncles attended.
Her family owns property, where Clark still lives today, just a few miles up the road from the fairgrounds.
“It has been in my mother’s family since prior to the Civil War, so there has been some of her family here since actually before the fair started,” she said.
Clark’s parents met for the first time at the fair and she remembers going most of her life — whether it was to help celebrate the fair’s 100th anniversary as a child, to participate in the fair’s queen contest as a teenager or to help lead the livestock shows, a job she said she held for about 30 years.
“The fair, I think, was a bigger deal then because it was kind of like my social event of the summer,” she said.
Over the years, the fair’s main events have evolved from horse and buggies to motorized events like the demolition derby and the truck and tractor pull.
“We try to keep the mule show and the horse show going so that we still have something left,” Clark said. “We like to have that connection to the past.”
But while all the events may not be the same as they were 150 years ago, Turner-Davis said the essence of the fair has always remained the same: providing as much entertainment as possible for the majority of its attendees.
“The core has never changed, but you change with the times and what you enjoy,” she said.
Each year the fair is run by volunteers, who agree to give up their time to help make the fair a reality. It’s something stakeholders like Clark continue to do because of its deep roots within the community, but also because of the deep roots the fair has had in their own lives.
“We’ve just done it so long it’s kind of in our blood,” Clark said.