As Elaine Wilson, 74, steps out the door of her wool shop behind the main farmhouse, “Piglet,” a small black goat runs down the staircase where husband Dale, 75, is sitting. Elaine, retired after years as the Open Class Wool Superintendent at the Evergreen State Fair, is the 2018 honoree. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

As Elaine Wilson, 74, steps out the door of her wool shop behind the main farmhouse, “Piglet,” a small black goat runs down the staircase where husband Dale, 75, is sitting. Elaine, retired after years as the Open Class Wool Superintendent at the Evergreen State Fair, is the 2018 honoree. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

The face of the fair has wild and woolly friends on her farm

This year’s Evergreen State Fair honoree has lifelong connection to Lowell-area land that’s her home.

Elaine Wilson didn’t set out to raise goats and sheep. Yet there she was, with her husband Dale, sitting on the porch of her wool shop. It’s a little building behind their Lowell-area home, a farmhouse built in the late 1880s. And there, at times on her lap, was a goat named “Chick.”

Another goat, “Piglet,” sneaked up to nuzzle their shoulders. “Gingersnap” and other goats peered at visitors from behind a fence.

The Wilsons have more than 60 goats and seven sheep at their place along Larimer Road. It’s called Glen Gyle Farm, named decades ago by Elaine Wilson’s grandmother. “It’s Scottish,” she said, “and means a creek running through a meadow.” Although inside Everett city limits, the farm seems a world away from nearby I-5 or the city’s new Riverfront development.

At 74, Elaine Wilson has a lifelong history here. She grew up across the road on a 72-acre dairy farm operated by her parents, Edwin and Elizabeth Graham. They ran the Glen Gyle Dairy with Edwin’s parents, Christopher and Eliza Graham.

As a teenager, Elaine was in 4-H. She showed her beef cow, “Bessie,” at the Monroe fair. “Bessie was a handful,” she recalled. “She took out a piece of a barn.” Back then, some teens stayed in dormitories at the fairgrounds. “It was great fun,” she said.

At this year’s fair, Elaine Wilson isn’t likely to raise any ruckus. She is the 2018 Evergreen State Fair Honoree.

In Elaine and Dale Wilson’s comfortable farmhouse in the Lowell area, she straightens a ribbon displayed near a side door in the kitchen. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

In Elaine and Dale Wilson’s comfortable farmhouse in the Lowell area, she straightens a ribbon displayed near a side door in the kitchen. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

She’ll cut the ribbon Thursday during an opening-day ceremony. And on Saturday, she will be grand marshal of the Monroe Fair Days Parade, which starts at 11 a.m. along W. Main Street.

Each year, the fair honors a person or family. Recipients are recognized for their years of contributions — their time, energy and commitment to the fair’s participants and traditions. Nominations for the honor, which can come from anyone, are evaluated by the Fair Advisory Board and some staff.

For 25 years, Wilson was superintendent of the fair’s Open Class Wool department. She retired from that role last year.

Creating the wool display was a big part of Wilson’s job each year. Dale Wilson, 75, is proud of his wife’s achievements. “She did the educational display thing,” he said, praising Elaine for her “sense of color” and the many blue ribbons she earned. On a wall in their home are just a few of those ribbons. “I’ve done well,” Elaine said.

In Open Class competitions, a superintendent is not a judge. “I hired the judges,” she said, adding that some came from the Pendleton Woolen Mills in Oregon.

The biggest goat on the farm, “Chick,” visits with Elaine Wilson as she and husband Dale sit outside the wool shop on the steps Thursday. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

The biggest goat on the farm, “Chick,” visits with Elaine Wilson as she and husband Dale sit outside the wool shop on the steps Thursday. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Her children and grandchildren have also taken their skills to the fair.

The Wilsons’ son and daughter-in-law, Eric and Julie Wilson of Everett, are superintendents of this year’s Open Class Homemade Beverages. That category includes beer, wine, mead, cider and soda pop. Julie Wilson, who has been co-superintendent of Open Class Wool with Elaine, will ride with her mother-in-law in the parade.

Susanne Duren, the Wilsons’ daughter, lives in southwest Washington. She and the Wilsons’ granddaughters, Lottie and Cassie, have all been fair participants.

And all those goats and sheep? The Wilsons, both Washington State University graduates, started raising the animals out of necessity.

As a small child, their daughter Susanne had a cow’s milk allergy. “We ended up having to buy a goat,” Elaine Wilson said.

Dale Wilson taught high school English and journalism in Castle Rock. He had grown up in the tiny Lewis County community of Evaline, where daughter Susanne is now on the staff at the schoolhouse. After their move to the place where his wife grew up, he worked for Nord Door in Everett.

Elaine Wilson creates fine wool yarn on her spinning wheel at one end of the kitchen. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Elaine Wilson creates fine wool yarn on her spinning wheel at one end of the kitchen. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

With herds of goats and sheep, they have sold milk, meat and wool.

“I make cheese and my family drinks milk,” said Elaine Wilson, who every morning shares goat-milking duties with her husband. “And I do sell wool to spinners — I have to feed the sheep,” she said.

Through breeding with Angora goats — Angora fiber is mohair — the Wilsons have what they call “kingora” goats, which produce a soft, lustrous fleece.

In the couple’s antique-filled kitchen is a big table with a red-checkered tablecloth. Just off the kitchen is Elaine’s spinning wheel. In the wool shop, she uses a crank device to card the fleece. Back in the house, she demonstrated her spinning wheel.

Pinching a ball of fleece in one hand, she fed out yarn with the other as the big wheel turned. Elaine then explained how she makes two-ply yarn.

In her wool shop, Elaine Wilson works with fine fibers from specially bred goats—an Angora goat cross. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

In her wool shop, Elaine Wilson works with fine fibers from specially bred goats—an Angora goat cross. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Orders for her wool have come from as far away as Chicago. “I’m not the best spinner in the world. I learned to spin,” she said. “I was really selling wool to spinners. There’s a market for fine wool.”

At an event in March, Wilson was surprised to learn she’d be this year’s honoree. As a fair official talked about the person’s achievements, Wilson said she was thinking “I did all those things” — never suspecting that her name was about to be announced.

In her wool shop, she stays busy year-round. She cards the fiber and stores bags and bags of clean fleece, ready for spinning.

“I bought it at the fair,” she said of the cozy two-story building, which sometimes has goats on the porch. “You can buy anything at the fair.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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