As the 2014 Evergreen State Fair Honoree, the 70-year-old Clearview woman will ride in a convertible.
Each year, the Evergreen State Fair honors one among hundreds of volunteers whose devotion of time and energy has made a mark on the county's end-of-summer party.
Phelps has been a 4-H leader for 43 years. For every one of those years, she has been at the Evergreen State Fair. She is now superintendent of the fair's Natural Sciences Department. And with WSU Snohomish County Extension, she is a 4-H Natural Resources leader.
On Thursday, Phelps will be honored at the fair's opening day ceremony and will cut the ribbon for the 12-day event. For the run of the fair, she'll spend long days in Building 501, the 4-H Building. She will spend nights in a travel trailer on the fairgrounds.
“She's just the sweetest person,” said Sherry Stovner, the fair's superintendent coordinator. “Wherever she is, if she sees a need or somebody struggling, she steps right in and helps.”
Phelps said Monday that her involvement with 4-H began after she married and moved to the Clearview area. A neighbor, who had children in the 4-H horse program, asked her to help. Later, her own son and daughter were active in 4-H. They are grown, but Phelps has stayed on to lead generations of 4-H kids. She has helped with the fair's cats program and in many other ways.
Phelps meets with her Natural Resources 4-H group once a month at the extension office at McCollum Park in Everett. There are kids in the group ages 6 to 18. “The older ones learn to help the younger ones,” she said.
Children in the Natural Resources program learn about wildlife, outdoor safety, orienteering and other topics.
“Last year, a young man brought in a baby snake. This year, it was an aquarium with spiders. I've seen everything,” she said.
Jana Ferris, an educator with WSU Snohomish County Extension's 4-H Youth Development Department, said Phelps encourages children in the Natural Resources program to participate in the fair. “She can always be counted on to be there and to help things go smoothly,” Ferris said.
There are now about 1,900 young people, ages 5 to 19, involved in 4-H in Snohomish County and nearly 500 volunteers. Ferris said only about 30 percent of local 4-H programs are focused on agriculture. A technology program includes hardware, software and robotics. Along with cooking and sewing, 4-H also offers photography, mechanical science, public speaking and many other programs.
“We are willing to use whatever interest a child has,” Ferris said. “Projects are tools for kids to learn decision-making, time management, all the life skills we need when we grow up.”
At the fair, Phelps sees problem-solver as her biggest role. “Whatever it is, I just tell kids, ‘Don't worry about it,' ” she said.
One year, a little boy in her 4-H group was in tears when he and his mom arrived at the fair. “He had made an 8-foot shark out of butcher paper. It was stuffed and stapled together,” Phelps said. On the drive from Marysville to Monroe, a fin on the shark had ripped.
“I had a real fishing net from something I had done in a prior year. I cut it and put the shark in it, and raised it to the ceiling facing the front door,” Phelps said. “That shark got a blue ribbon, a viewer's choice rosette and a creative award.”
At an age when most people are retired, Phelps isn't about to give up her 4-H or fair duties.
“It's what keeps me going,” she said. “The kids bring me back every year.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn about 4-H
For information about 4-H youth programs in Snohomish County go to http://ext100.wsu.edu/snohomish/4h/ or call 425-357-6044
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