*This story was featured in the Hastings Tribune on July 16, 2016.
SMITH CENTER, Kan. — With aspirations of recognition on the mind, patrons across Smith County gathered at the Kansas National Guard Armory there Thursday morning to enter exhibits in the Open Class portion of the Smith County Free Fair.
FFA and 4-H members, along with all other Smith County residents, had the opportunity to submit a variety of items for the Open Class exhibits.
“This is sort of the kick off of all the entries,” said Sandra Wick, Crop Production Agent for Kansas State University in the Post Rock Extension District.
The Open Class event allows people of all ages to submit items that are then separated into a number of categories, including crafts, foods, photography, fine arts and self-determination projects, among others. Foods and clothing were judged prior to Thursday, but all other categories were judged on site throughout the day Thursday.
All submissions have specific judging criteria, depending on the category in which they are entered. FFA and 4-H divisions use a special type of judging, called consultation judging, which allows judges to provide feedback on their decisions. This, in turn, allows kids to do better for the following year’s exhibits.
This event, in particular, is important in showcasing the creativity of the people of Smith County.
“They’ve worked all year on these projects, so we like to promote our 4-H youth programs through this,” Wick said. “So we encourage community members to come out and look at the accomplishments.”
Not only was there a foods category, but Smith County 4-H’ers also sold a wide selection of delectable foods as a fudraising effort for the organization.
The highlights of the Open Class submissions included a 15-foot cornstalk, a craft submission of a half-Christmas tree, half-mannequin dress design and self-determination project that showed community members how to transform old blue jeans into shoes for children in Africa.
The armory also was littered with school projects about reading, charity work and interests of children throughout the community.
“It’s cool just seeing the kids enjoying the event, which is what its all about,” said Shelley Garlow, a former 4-H kid who now helps organize the event. Perhaps the neatest project came from Ross Inland, a high school student from Smith Center High School. Inland turned a woods class project into an opportunity to explore and connect with his family and athletic heritage. He built a 42-by-35.5- inch walnut display case, and inside displayed a Kansas State letterman jacket and newspaper clippings from the 1930s track days of his great-grandfather, Lewis Sweat.
“My dad is always telling me he grew up woodworking, and I’ve been doing woodworking … so I thought it would be a great project,” Inland said.
Throughout the building process, Inland learned about a special connection he had with his great-grandfather: It wasn’t enough that they both ran competitively, but in fact, they both ran the same event — the 4×800.
“At the time (of building the case), I didn’t know it,” he said. “I thought it was really cool … it was just great to see my family had a great heritage with long-distance running.”
While there something for everybody at the Open Class showcase, the event itself gives the entire community a chance to interact and have fun.
“I think it definitely bonds the community together,” said Abbye Hendrich, the 4-H event coordinator. “You have all the different clubs from all over the county…they really don’t interact a lot during the year, but the fair brings them together and it’s a bonding process.”
The Smith County Free Fair continues through Monday.