The Mountlake Terrace woman now spends long days in the Display Hall at the Monroe fairgrounds. For nearly a quarter-century, she has been an Open Class judge and fair volunteer. She’s also a fierce competitor.
Elhai is the 2017 Evergreen State Fair Honoree, a distinction recognizing her long commitment to fair participants and traditions.
“Laura is more than deserving of the award this year,” said Brielle Dodge, the fair spokeswoman. Nominations, which may come from anyone, are evaluated each year by the Fair Advisory Board and some of the fair’s staff, Dodge said.
Elhai no longer has time for the amusements, but still has fun with friends at the fair. “It’s such a great group of people,” she said, calling fellow volunteers “my fair family.”
“Some of these people I don’t see all year. But after 340 days you pick right back up where you left off,” she said.
David Heia, superintendent for the Open Class Fine Arts department, is among Elhai’s fair friends.
“Every year we gather together at the Evergreen State Fair for a 12-day family reunion,” Heia wrote in a short essay titled “Fair Food.” In it, he said his favorite fair treat isn’t a Fisher scone, but Elhai’s Silver White Cake, which she has entered in Open Class Baking competitions.
Time at the fair is a vacation from her real job. Elhai has worked 18 years for Starbucks, and is a payroll manager for the coffee giant.
This year, she is superintendent for the fair’s American Heritage display, which is focused on the 1950s.
“It’s really a fun era,” said Elhai, showing artifacts I remember from childhood.
The display’s wringer washing machine, vintage black Singer sewing machine, and an antique Sunbeam Mixmaster could have come from my grandmother’s kitchen. The exhibit includes demonstrations of making applesauce and sauerkraut. “They spent a lot of time in the kitchen,” Elhai said.
Elhai judged children’s canning and some senior baking items at this year’s fair. And as in years past, she cleaned up with Open Class honors. The fair’s 2017 theme is “Harvest the Memories,” but when it comes to competition Elhai has her own motto: “Go big or go home.”
True to that philosophy, this year she won a Merit Award, Class Winner, Award of Excellence and a First Place for her blackberry jelly. Her Italian Cream Cake won a Best of Show ribbon.
She entered 20 baking items, 19 in canning, and in fine arts, a glass pumpkin. She’s also a Sweepstakes winner, an award noting a top number of blue ribbons.
“It’s nice to try new things,” said Elhai, who is married and has two grown stepdaughters.
This is Elhai’s 24th year as a fair volunteer. She has also judged at the Puyallup and San Juan County fairs. She has provided gift baskets for a fairgrounds Murder Mystery dinner that benefits food banks. And she has trained other judges and helped present how-to-win seminars.
Her involvement began nearly 30 years ago when she and her mother, Kathleen Wright, entered the fair’s canning and baking contests. Wright is now superintendent for Open Class Baking. Open Class, Elhai explained, means just that — competitions are open to all, with no need to be part of 4-H or any other group.
Elhai’s first taste of competition wasn’t a success, but that didn’t sour her on it. Her salsa was disqualified because it wasn’t properly labeled. Although she lost, the canning superintendent showed “kindness, concern and encouragement,” Elhai said.
“I hope I can be that person for somebody else,” she said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.