NEW CASTLE —
Could there be a Lawrence County Fair without Virginia Harman?
How would anyone know? It hasn’t happened since 1957.
This week the 92-year-old North Beaver Township woman is extending her incredible streak, which spans seven decades.
As usual, Virginia is being accompanied by a small army at the fairgrounds, which has been a second home to the Harmans ever since Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House.
Attending the Lawrence County Fair is as much a tradition for them as birthdays and holidays.
The only daughter of the late Park and Rubie Metz and widow of Donald “Bucky” Harman, Virginia is the matriarch of the fair’s unofficial first family. She remains an inspiration to a devoted clan that now numbers 64.
“It’s our vacation,” said Dawn Palmer, Virginia’s oldest daughter. “As far back as I can remember it always has been.”
Most of the family — which includes three sons, three daughters, 17 grandchildren, their spouses, and 20 great-grandchildren — are joining Virginia this week for their annual celebration of farm life.
Dawn said about 30 family members are staying overnight in three campers, but not Virginia.
“She needs to go home and sleep in her own bed,” said Dawn. Virginia has moved in with Dawn and son-in-law Donald Palmer.
But Dawn said Virginia will return to the fairgrounds every morning this week to join the party.
“The fair is the highlight of the summer for rural folks,” she said.
Virginia married “Bucky” in 1947, and in 1955 they bought his family’s 150-acre farm and all the cows, horses, pigs and sheep that came with it.
It wasn’t a big adjustment for Virginia, who grew up in the country.
Every year during Virginia’s 54-year run, at least one member of her family has taken part in 4-H competition.
Virginia’s six children and many of her grandchildren were raised on that farm, which now belongs to son Gary.
All of them helped raise and prepare animals to show at the fair. Six of the grandchildren have been named “Most Outstanding 4-H’r .” That’s especially important to the family since it was Bucky, who died in 1993, who launched the local 4-H program.
“It’s always a hectic time,” admits Virginia.
SHOWING THEIR ANIMALS
Dawn was 7 when she first showed her pet pig at the fair.
Great-granddaughter Savannah Palmer, 8, continued the tradition Monday, showing her lamb, Buttercup.
Today it will be granddaughter Kelsey Okon with her lamb.
Four great-grandchildren — Ryan Palmer, Sydney Andrews, Jack Andrews and Turk Davis — will be involved in the peewee showmanship class with their pigs tomorrow.
And like always, Virginia will be there for all of it.
Although she has been at every fair, Virginia is the only one never to have participated. She was too busy making sure the others were ready and able.
“I don’t get around like I used to,” she said. Yet you can still find her swimming in the family’s pool when she has a mind to join her grandson, Ryan.
But all the growing in the Harman family isn’t confined to children and animals. Virginia still manages her own garden of tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage and lettuce.
“I couldn’t bend over any more so they raised the garden for me,” said Virginia, who recently attended a Mount Jackson class of 1938 reunion.
Some of her kids built a platform about 18 inches high and put a garden on top of it so that Virginia more easily work it.
BEFORE THE FAIRGROUNDS
Virginia remembers the Lawrence County Fair before there was a fairgrounds. She says things have changed a lot since the event was held at the Rick Farm.
“Everything was in tents,” she recalled. “But it’s has gotten much bigger. And like everything else, it’s more expensive.”
But for some things price just isn’t an obstacle, and Virginia can’t wait to wrap her lips around a hot sausage sandwich, one of the fair’s many staples.
The sights, smells, sounds and tastes of fair week remain a treasure to her senses.
This will be the first time that Harmans are not showing dairy cows, and Dawn is a bit relieved. “Dairy cows require 24/7 care and attention,” she said. “We’ll have much more free time this year.”
The fair and the values and traditions that it stands continue to draw the Harmans. “Kids just don’t seem to have the work ethic that we did,” said Dawn.
“My mother is a very strong woman and she taught us so much, said Dawn. “She gave us a faith in God and a strong work ethic. She taught us to put others first.”
“And each year there are fewer and fewer farm families,” said Dawn.
Virginia has more memories than she can mention, but a few are easily recalled.
In 1962, Virginia was walking the fairgrounds at nine months pregnant. “I was as big as a barrel,” she said. “But I made it to all the events.”
Like a good daughter, Lisa waited for the fair to end before being born the following week.
“We’ve been there through every kid of weather you could imagine,” Virginia said.
“Times when it was so hot and dry that you could barely stand it and another time when we had to wear coats because it was so cold.”
She remembers a lightning strike and rain so hard that it flooded the grounds.
“The kids went swimming in middle of a field,” she said.
It was always about the kids.
“They really liked to play in the mud,” she said. “If it was too dry, they would carry buckets of water to make their own mud.”
Staying late for tractor pulls was a difficult time, but her husband was involved, so she had to wait.
It would often go on past midnight. “The kids were hanging on my legs and just wanting to go home,” she said.
She put them to bed when they got home, but had to wash their clothes and prepare to return in the morning.
It’s been her way of life for a lifetime.
NEW CASTLE —
Could there be a Lawrence County Fair without Virginia Harman?
- Lawrence County Fair
Lawrence County Fair: Youths show, sell grand champion animals
The most glorious time for 4-H youths at the fair is when their animals receive a grand champion banner. That means a lot of hard work, time and effort that went into a year of preparation has paid off, because that animal is the top one of its kind at the Lawrence County Fair.
Lawrence County Fair: Local women nab multiple honors
Two Lawrence County women are among those who impressed the fair judges this year with their expertise with a needle. Eleanore Patton of the Mahoning Valley Grange won all blue ribbons and best-of-show ribbons for her entries in the adult sewing competition in previous years, and this year was no different.
Lawrence County Fair: Clean drinking water for Uganda goal of project
The purchase of a necklace or shoulder bag at the fair is helping give an African village clean drinking water. Richard Welch, regional director of the Ugandan Water Project, said the jewelry, purses and wood carvings he was selling this week at the organization’s booth at the Lawrence County Fair are made by Ugandan women.
Lawrence County Fair: Teen’s Holstein reigns supreme
Claire Nye’s cow has a great udder. That was what judges in the dairy ring at the Lawrence County Fair determined when they presented Bessie with a banner as the supreme cow of the junior dairy show.
One Last Look: Photo galleries, video and stories from the Lawrence County Fair
It was a week to remember. Plenty of food, fun and excitement took place at the Lawrence County Fair. Relive all the memories one more time.
Photo Gallery, Story: Livestock auction caps county fair
Cooler weather, blue skies and support of the agriculture industry were among reasons meat-buyers went to the fair early Saturday. But most went to put their money behind the hard-working youths who had spent the year raising animals for this big week.
Honors presented as fair ends
Every year, at least two youths stand out from the crowd at the Lawrence County Fair. That is especially true when it comes to dedication and involvement in 4-H and livestock. This year, Jocelyn Kelly of Wampum and Jenny Ratvasky of Volant were considered as among those by their peers and 4-H and FFA leaders.
Photo Gallery, Story: Grand champion animals selected
The top-showing animals at the Lawrence County Fair and the youths who raised them were honored with banners and ribbons. Buyers at the Lawrence County Junior Livestock Sale Saturday paid for those winners as a way to support local 4-H and FFA youths and their endeavors.
Wool fashions highlighted in sheep show
The beautiful possibilities of wool were on display Friday night at the Lawrence County Fair. About 200 people attended the annual Lead Line fashion show in the livestock arena, where children ages four to 18 and some adults modeled handmade woolen clothing in glorious variety.
Photo Gallery, Story: Olympics help farm families pass time at fair
Even the county fair can get boring for farm kids who stay on the grounds all week. For them — and other interested youngsters — the “Farm Olympics” were born to add some fun with farm-themed contests.
- More Lawrence County Fair Headlines
- Lawrence County Fair: Youths show, sell grand champion animals