SANDWICH – The best part of the Sandwich Fair for Trisha Ithal is not the carnival rides, the livestock displays or the live music. It’s the nostalgia it brings.
“The nostalgia, I think, brings me back every year. And the food,” Ithal said. “It’s just being here every day. We don’t miss it.”
The 32-year-old stay-at-home mother was attending the fair Wednesday with her husband Carl and son Sean, along with other family members. Although she now lives in North Aurora, Ithal said she has come to the fair every day, every year since she was born.
Fair organizers kicked off Wednesday’s events with an opening ceremony and a parade featuring the Sandwich High School marching band and chorus, the Junior High School marching band, as well as a color guard made up of local veterans.
The fair is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, and to give an idea of how much had changed since then, Rick Olson, a retired Sandwich police chief, read off a list of facts of things that occurred in 1888, the first year of the fair.
Back then, Grover Cleveland was president and Frederick Douglass became the first African American to receive a roll call vote at a national convention for president of the United States. Olson also noted that since this time, the Chicago Cubs have only won two World Series championships.
“White Sox fans, don’t get excited, you’ve only won three,” Olson said to crowd laughter.
Nostalgia was also a common theme amongst Wednesday’s speakers. Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Dennis Hastert related to the crowd his experiences of being in 4-H at the Sandwich Fair, showing off livestock or coming to the fair with his dad.
He also commented on how much the fair has changed in the past 65 years. He noted that while in years past there might have been more agricultural aspects on display, the fair has largely kept the same tone.
“This fair has kept what county fairs are all about,” Hastert said. “And you can walk around a lot of fairs, and I have over the years, ... and it’s kind of a big carnival with a lot of festivities. But this really represents what Sandwich, what Kendall and DeKalb and LaSalle and Kane [counties] are really all about.”
State Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, also commented on the change he has seen in American life since he started coming to the Sandwich Fair. He said many Americans are removed from the people who make the country’s food, and that county fairs often become the last place ordinary citizens can go to see animals and talk to farmers.
“The fair is an old tradition that preserves many things and offers new surprises,” Pritchard said. “It’s a place where fond memories are made, and the desire to do better is matured.”
Former Gov. James Thompson spoke the longest about his experiences with the Sandwich Fair, saying that both the fair and the county as a whole were “in his blood.”
“For someone who grew up on the west side of Chicago, the ability to come out to the Sandwich Fair and to spend summers on the farm outside of Hinckley was a blessed event,” Thompson said. He added that he was sorry that many American children today do not know what it’s like to live on a farm, and having done so made him better for it.
Thompson compared the Sandwich Fair to the Illinois State Fair in Springfield and the DuQuoin State Fair in DuQuoin.
Don Charleston, a retired Caterpillar engineer who grew up in Sandwich, disagreed with those comparisons, saying the Sandwich Fair was superior.
Like the opening ceremony speakers, Charleston was nostalgic about his experiences at the Sandwich Fair. Charleston said he drove two hours with his wife Ann to the fair Wednesday from their home in downstate Washington.
Charleston said he used to sell tickets for the fair while he was in high school in the mid-1960s. To pass the time, he and some of the other teenage volunteers would stick their feet out past the white line on the road as cars from the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show sped past. Charleston said his feet would come within centimeters of being run over.
“I didn’t realize until later in life how dangerous that actually was to do that,” Charleston said.
Even though they were just at the fair for the parade, SHS sophomore Jeremy Kehoe and senior Brianne Brubaker said they plan to return all this week. Kehoe plays in the band’s drumline, while Brubaker is a tenor in the choir.
Brubaker said she looks forward to riding the Gravitron, an amusement ride that spins really fast causing the riders to be pressed against the wall. When it comes to food, Kehoe has eyes on the deep-fried, chocolate-covered bacon offered by some of the vendors.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Kehoe said about the fair. “You get to walk around and meet new people and have the most fun you’ll probably ever have in your life.”