SANDWICH – Vendors, exhibitors and Sandwich Fair staff members geared up Monday for what Nancy Rex called “five big days and four big nights” at the fairgrounds.
The 125th Sandwich Fair begins Wednesday and runs through Sunday. It’s the oldest continuous county fair in the state, with more than 28,000 exhibits – the most in Illinois – a carnival, tractor pulls, culinary competitions, live music, harness racing and more.
Rex, Sandwich Fair Association secretary, said officials hope to see close to 200,000 people attend the fair during the five days. Because it’s an outdoor event, attendance is heavily dependent upon the weather.
Rex said the fair remains popular because of its longevity and the beautiful fairgrounds.
“And it’s a good, old-fashioned county fair,” she said. For visitors from the suburbs of Chicago, coming out to the fair is like a day in the country.
“We have something that almost anybody will be interested in,” Rex said.
Special events to celebrate the 125th fair include an opening ceremony, parade and birthday cake Wednesday, an ice cream social Thursday, a vintage baseball game and hot air balloon launch Friday and a talent show Saturday.
On Monday, business and food vendors – like those selling barbecue ribs, turkey legs and taffy apples – began setting up their booths, and exhibitors dropped off entries for judging.
Audi and Ed Wonsowski, owners of Audis Acres Natural Produce in Plano, set up honey, honeycomb and Audi’s collection of honey pots and containers inside their green and yellow booth. Audi said they’ve had the same spot – which sees traffic from three directions – for about 45 years.
“I love to see all the people again,” Audi said, mentioning that she even runs into people she grew up with in Downers Grove.
“This is going to be a big one. We’re looking forward to it,” she said of the 125th fair.
Exhibitors, including novices and veterans, entered everything from photography and baked goods to needlework and produce. They dropped off items to be judged at various buildings throughout the fairgrounds Monday. Livestock is scheduled to arrive today.
Chris Benke of Sheridan submitted beets to be judged in the open show vegetable category. Okra he grew and submitted last year won first place. He said he doesn’t know exactly what the judges will look for, but appearance is important.
“I’m a second-timer, so I’m still learning the ropes,” he said. Winning comes with prestige, he said, because it’s a big deal. It’s the Sandwich Fair.
At the home arts building, Tricia Hecker of Sheridan dropped off a baby afghan and shawl she crocheted; the baby afghan took about 12 hours to create, while she put in about 36 hours crocheting the shawl, a more intricate piece.
“It’s relaxing and I love seeing the finished product,” she said. She also submitted photography and has won second and third place for her photos in the past.
Other needlework entries included quilts, doilies, clothing and purses. Needlework Superintendent Donna Leonard said judges will look at a piece’s stitching, presentation and difficulty of the pattern, among other things.
“I think people like to show off what they’ve done, and this is a wonderful place to show off,” Leonard said.
Because she’s been working at the fair for close to 20 years, Leonard said she enjoys seeing familiar faces year after year. Exhibitors and staff become almost like family, she said.
Karen Campbell of DeKalb has been named champion baker nine times. She’s hoping this year makes 10, and she’s submitted about 80 baked goods in an attempt to achieve that goal. Champion baker is the exhibitor who takes the most prize money.
“I love baking and, well, why not get something for it?” she said.
Campbell, who bakes cakes, cookies, breads and muffins, dropped off her cakes Monday and plans to bring the rest today. She said her favorite things to bake are yeast breads and cakes, “and that’s what I usually do my best in, too.”