New Castle News

August 14, 2012

My Fair Lady: Woman attends every county fair for more than 50 years — and she’s back for more

David Burcham
New Castle News

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.



THE BEGINNING

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.



FAIR MEMORIES

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.

(Email: d_burcham@ncnewsonline.com)