In 1951, the southern Kenai Peninsula had two fairs, one in Homer and one in Ninilchik.
According to a newspaper story on Aug. 11, 1951, plans were being finalized for that year’s Homer fair, with the Skyway Theatre offering space for baking and canning displays, as well as textile, clothing, knitting and crocheting exhibits.
That also was the year Mary Hawkins of Ninilchik founded the Ninilchik State Fair, collaborating with the community’s Parent Teacher Association. It was held in the Ninilchik School basement.
Homer newspaper accounts indicate the Homer fair was a “huge success” with “peninsula-wide participation” in 1964. In 1965, “many have proclaimed this the best fair yet.” By June 23, 1966, however, Homer’s enthusiasm for a fair had apparently waned. Lack of support caused James Clemens, the Homer Fair Association’s board president, to ask, “Does Homer really want a Fair? If there is not sufficient interest, we will assume that Homer doesn’t want the fair and we should discontinue it. This is a decision that the community must make. It cannot continue as a ‘one-man show.’”
When only four people, all board members, attended the meeting that followed publication of Clemens’ letter, the decision was made not to have a Homer fair that year.
A year later, in the Homer News, Aug. 31, 1967, the public was invited to attend the Ninilchik fair. Six year’s later, public support of the fair was requested.
“As we are the only state fair on the peninsula, we need your help to make it a success,” said the Ninilchik Fair Association in a letter in the Homer News, Aug. 9, 1973.
Peninsula-wide help was apparently received. The name, Kenai Peninsula Fair, reflects its broad focus, as does its current board of directors. There’s board president Jim Stearns and board members Lyn Patton and Marti Krohn of Homer; Shirley Cox of Happy Valley; Helena Bock and Bob Ferguson of Ninilchik; Kathleen Kitson and Dean Kitson of Sterling and one board vacancy to be filled.
Having long ago outgrown the school basement, the fair has its very own fairgrounds along the Sterling Highway, where it welcomes thousands of visitors every year. For this, its 63rd year, Fair Manager Lara McGinnis said she is “hoping for 10,000 so we can do it all again just as big and crazy next year.”
Friday and Saturday, the fair gates are open from 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m. On Sunday, the fair is 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $12 adults, $6 for youth ages 6-12 and seniors 65 and older. Five and under are free.
This year’s theme — “sow it, grow it, show it” — gives a nod to the success of local growers.
“The fair historically is about bragging rights for the things you’ve accomplished over the summer,” said Lara McGinnis, the 10-year fair manager.
Big vegetables, lush berries and beautiful flowers are only part of what the fair has to offer, however.
This year’s top-notch music includes Home Free, a country a cappella band that was the Season 4 champion of NBC’s “The Sing Off,” and Grammy award-winning Bryan White. Home Free performs at 7 p.m. Saturday; Bryan White at 4 p.m. Sunday.
Carnival rides from A-1 Midway of Canada fulfill a dream McGinnis has been working on for years and made possible with help from the Tanana Valley Fair. A-1 not only is providing the rides, but also hiring local youth to help operate them.
Pythons, alligators and a few of their relatives can be seen up close at the fair, thanks to Brad’s World Reptiles and thanks to McGinnis’ son, Robert, 14, who volunteered for Brad’s World Reptiles at the 2013 Alaska State Fair in Palmer.
“He’s volunteering again this year, so we got a smoking deal,” said McGinnis of encouraging Brad’s World Reptiles to come to Ninilchik.
With the support of BP, Friday is Kids’ Day at the fair and kids’ admission is free with a donation to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. Central peninsula radio station FM 105.3 Eagle Rock is encouraging those donations by bringing a semi-trailer to the fairgrounds and challenging the public to load it with 20,000 pounds of food.
Friday also is “Red Shirt” day, with a nod to deployed U.S. servicemen and women.
The Saturday morning fair parade is at 10 a.m. Saturday and goes from Inlet View Lodge, along the Sterling Highway to American Legion Post 18.
The 4H Junior Market Livestock auction is Saturday. The Kenai Peninsula Racing pigs entertain Saturday and Sunday. The rodeo also is Saturday and Sunday. Seniors get in for half-price on Sunday, thanks to Central Peninsula and South Peninsula hospitals. There are more than 120 vendors, including 20 different food vendors. And the list of attractions goes on and on.
“You’ll want to be here every single day,” said McGinnis. “One day just isn’t enough”
For more information and schedules of this weekend’s Kenai Peninsula Fair, visit kenaipeninsulafair.com.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.