HEMPSTEAD, Texas – The purpose of the Waller County Fair and Rodeo is simple: Provide an exposition for the communities in the region while also showcasing and giving back to the youth in the county.
There are some traditional fair activities, like the rodeo, the livestock shows, the carnival and the concerts, but the Waller County Fair Association also has some hidden gems that remain a big part of the fair’s identity.
From the Junior Fair Board to Ag Voyage and the Barnyard Buddies to Creative Living, every step of these ornamental aspects of the annual expo is vital to the growth and development of young people while also giving an outlet to others who want to be part of the fair and rodeo.
“The Creative Living is important because it promotes hands-on learning of life skills that our young people are going to need later in order to become productive adults,” said Melissa Hegemeyer, chairwoman of Creative Living. “It is so important because with technology, electronic games and other innovations bombarding them, even the most elementary life skills tend to get pushed aside.”
Placed in the Barbara Carpenter Building, Creative Living is home to non-animal exhibits, like baked goods, favorite recipes, decorated confections, canned goods, constructive clothing and accessories, needlework, creative arts and handicrafts, horticulture, photography, fine arts, collective hobbies and quilts.
“In the open division, exhibitors ranch from preschool (as young as 3 years old) to golden living (62 and older), so we welcome all ages,” Hegemeyer said. “Our auction division is for 4H and FFA participants. The youth spend many hours creating marketable items to be judged, and winners in each age group make it to the Junior Livestock Auction.
“It’s very important for us to continue to encourage our youth to learn the arts and crafts that make up family traditions. Being a 4H club manager for 12 years and being a part of the Creative Living building now for 20 years makes me so proud we continue to offer an environment that encourages the importance of hands-on learning and valuable life skills that are so vital for the youth of Waller County.”
Now in its eighth year, Barnyard Buddies will take place 9 a.m-1 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28. Barnyard Buddies offers Waller County special-needs students a way to enjoy a day at the fair.
“It’s just great to see the smiles on their faces and them laughing and having a good time,” said Julie Abke, the chairwoman of the Junior Fair Board who oversees the Barnyard Buddies. “They do appreciate it, and they do like it.”
The same can be said for those involved with Ag Voyage, which is a way of teaching youngsters about where their food sources come from and the importance of agriculture. There are many children within the school system that don’t have the ability to show animal, so Ag Voyage gives them the opportunity to understand about the importance of agriculture.
“Because the fair’s all about education, we thought it would be nice to have an educational committee,” said Kristy Hyatt, chairwoman of the committee. “We will teach kids about different cuts of meat, where cotton comes from or what grain is used food-wise.”
Young exhibitors are part of the foundation of a county fair, but there’s much more to it in Waller County. The fair association also works closely with teenagers who are part of the Junior Fair Board, a group of juniors and seniors who work with the Waller County Fair Board to help run the fair and other associated events. There are 38 teens involved this year.
“The hope is for them to build up money to hopefully go to school, but we also want to help mentor them and have them come back when they get a little older and run the fair,” said Linda Randall, co-chair of the Junior Fair Board. “When the chairman of the Junior Fair Board and I started, we began doing livestock shows.
“Last year, we were able to give out almost $40,000 in scholarships, with them raising their own money putting on these livestock shows and other events to raise money for these scholarships.”
All the money the Junior Fair Board earns is returned in scholarship dollars. It’s also vital because the younger board members are hands-on in doing all the tasks it takes to produce an event the size of the Waller County Fair and Rodeo.
From setting up and getting the fairgrounds ready for the exposition to helping tear down once the event is over, there are many things to be done.
“I’m here to see the kids be successful,” Randall said. “I want to help these kids learn the livestock aspect and see the livestock industry be as successful as it can be, and I want to see these kids come back and be able to help.
“To be able to help these kids give back and watch their growth is why I’m here. That means the world to me.”