It was the calm before the fair at Kathy Van Buskirk’s rural home south of Lake Stevens.
Dexter, her 4-year-old golden retriever, greeted visitors Wednesday on the deck, where Van Buskirk’s bounty of summer flowers brighten the entryway. There were no horses in the field next to the house. An old barn is long gone.
A widow who’ll turn 80 in December, Van Buskirk has seen plenty of change since she began helping kids as a 4-H leader in the early 1970s and volunteering at the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe.
“There are no backyard horses now. Kids used to ride to the fair, ” she said, noting that today’s traffic would make that a perilous journey on horseback.
Van Buskirk is the Evergreen State Fair’s honoree this year. The recognition took her by surprise.
“It’s hard to put into words,” the longtime 4-H Equestrian leader said. “I never thought about it coming to me.”
This year’s fair, with the theme “Back in the Saddle Again — Open for Fun in 2021,” starts Thursday for an 11-day run, one day shorter than in the past. It will run through Sept. 6, with a closure on Sept. 1 for cleaning. The largest single attraction held in Snohomish County, the fair didn’t happen last summer due to the pandemic.
Van Buskirk has been a volunteer in 4-H programs for 50 years. As a leader, she’s been president and horse show chair, and served on the Horse Fair Committee. More than a familiar face at the fair, her voice became well known — she’s been a horse show announcer.
In 2014, Van Buskirk was inducted into the Washington State 4-H Hall of Fame, an honor bestowed by Washington State University Extension. Her longtime club, “Horse Around Riders,” once had nearly 30 kids who “shared a collection of backyard ponies,” according to Van Buskirk’s 4-H Hall of Fame biography.
“She is the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night for the 10 days 4-H horses are at the fair,” said Snohomish County’s announcement of the honor.
For more than 20 years during the fair, Van Buskirk has volunteered in the equestrian arena office. As the go-to person there, she helps with registration and ribbons, answers questions and does record-keeping. She works at all 4-H horse events at the fairgrounds. And she’s been a driving force behind the annual 4-H tack sale, a fundraiser for the organization.
“I still get people who say, ‘Are you still here?’ or ‘Do you remember me?’” said Van Buskirk, whose honorary duties will extend into next year’s festivities.
Most years, the fair honoree cuts the ribbon during opening-day ceremonies. Due to health concerns, there will be no 2021 opening ceremony, so Van Buskirk will do the honors in 2022, said Rose Intveld, a county Parks, Recreation and Tourism spokesperson. The Monroe Fair Days Parade is also canceled. In the past, a fair honoree has served as grand marshal of the parade, normally staged the last Saturday in August.
Each year, the fair honors a person or family. Recipients are recognized for their years of contributions. Nominations are evaluated by the Fair Advisory Board and staff.
Van Buskirk’s husband Bruce Van Buskirk, who had worked for the Scott Paper Co., died in 2015. He was part of a racing team at Evergreen Speedway. Their children, Jay and April, were both part of 4-H — their daughter in Van Buskirk’s 4-H horse group, while Jay participated in motorcycle 4-H.
Years ago, they raised Arabian show horses on their property. With a horse trailer and truck, Kathy Van Buskirk made solo trips hauling other people’s horses to shows, from Canada to Oregon. Back then, she said, her husband was working.
Raised in Walker, Minnesota, Van Buskirk said she used to ride her horse to the Dairy Queen. “I had horses since I was 8,” she said. After moving here in 1966, she worked at what was then General Hospital of Everett. She and Bruce, an Everett native, married in 1970.
A memory she shared from 1972 says a lot about her dedication to 4-H and the fair: “I was at the fair that Saturday and had Jay the following Monday,” she said.
She’ll be back at the fairgrounds this year, behind the scenes and helpful as ever.
“Our horses come in a week from today,” she said Wednesday. “It’s a lot of time and a lot of rewards. These are good kids.”
Julie Muhlstein: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Evergreen State Fair is scheduled for Aug. 26-31 and Sept. 2-6 (closed Sept. 1) at the fairgrounds in Monroe.
Due to the pandemic and staff shortages, this year’s fair will be different than in the past. There will be about 50% fewer vendors, limited daily capacity (through monitoring of ticket sales and possible temporary gate closures), increased sanitation, and a mask directive for public indoor spaces.
Fair goers are encouraged to attend on weekdays if possible, practice social distancing, and wash hands often.
Sept. 1: fair closed for cleaning.
Parking free due to staffing shortages, lower capacity.
Free N95 masks available upon request. Cashless transactions encouraged.
Hours: Ticket sales open 10 a.m. Gates open 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily (10:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Sept. 6). Carnival runs 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily (11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sept. 6.)
Regular (ages 13-61): $14 weekday/$16 weekend/$12 Labor Day.
Senior (ages 62 and older); military with ID; youth (ages 6-12): $11 weekday/$14 weekend/$9 Labor Day. Age 5 and under free.
No weekday gate admission specials (to disperse guests throughout fair). Advance discount admission, group and carnival passes available through Aug. 25.
Morning of Dreams: 9-11 a.m. Aug. 31, a special, calmer fair experience for people with disabilities or special needs.
Pro-West Rodeo canceled. No petting zoo, no pony rides.
No competitive displays due to limited staffing and volunteer judges. Some educational and static displays available for viewing, but not judged.
Information on discount tickets, Evergreen Speedway schedule, grandstand concerts, equestrian events and more: EvergreenFair.org