Hundreds volunteer at fair for the fun of it

By John Trumbo, Tri-City HeraldAugust 21, 2012 

The hours are from early morning to midnight, the pay is poor if at all, and working conditions consist mostly of hot air, inescapable dust and dirt, and lots of contact with the public.

And yet, more than 700 people willingly volunteer at the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo just to be there.

"I really like it and will continue until they take me out of here in a wheelbarrow," said Trish Kinnick, 65, of Finley, who supervises the Agronomy and Wheat Craft section in the agriculture building.

When the fair gates open to the public this morning, Kinnick will have stayed up until midnight to make sure her section is exactly the way she wants it to look.

Kinnick has been a volunteer at the fair since the late '80s but was a helper at fairs in Grant and Okanogan counties before that.

"I really like to encourage kids and adults to show crafts they can do and food they can grow in this area. Every year, there is a new vegetable," she said.

Natalie Hernandez, 16, and her sister Gabriella, 19, have been helpers at the ag building registration table for six years.

The Kennewick girls, who live close to the fairgrounds off 10th Avenue, learned volunteering at home, Natalie said.

"I grew up volunteering. I just like being a helper," she said.

Being in the agriculture building is a learning experience, too.

"The flowers are pretty amazing, and there are some interesting people," said Natalie, who looks forward to every fair when a man she only knows as "Lyle" brings in his award-winning apples.

"He has the most amazing crabapples, and his red delicious apples are huge," she said, using her hands to form the size of a large melon.

Natalie said she would like to be a judge, but must wait until she is 18. "Right now I'm just a 'go-fer'," she said.

There will be 152 entries from 4-H and FFA youth in the sheep barn this year, and all of them have to be signed in by Christy Mastin, 37, of Pasco.

Being sheep barn superintendent means Mastin spends every day during fair week until late at night, making sure the animals and owners are well cared for.

"It's a lot for me to organize," Mastin said, adding that she particularly enjoys seeing the same students return year after year to mature and develop leadership skills.

The only downside is when they sell their animals at auction, knowing the result likely will be lamb roast or lamb chops.

"There's a few tears," she said.

Mike Nolan, 56, of Pasco, said fair time can get crazy in the rabbit barn where about 350 of the furry critters, including 34 guinea pigs, take up residence for the week. The east end of the barn also is the poultry section, where a few hundred birds are housed.

Nolan said he and Aggie Mowry, 52, of Benton City, have been riding herd on the rabbits and guinea pig exhibitors for seven years.

There are logistical challenges in trying to set up the display area and the dozens of cages, but members of the Rada Rabbits and Cavies 4-H Club are a big help, he said.

"It is hard, but it is fun because we have a close-knit community," said Nolan.

Mowry said fair week and the setup that comes before is stressful, but rewarding.

"It is a lot like a teacher preparing for the start of the school year. Busy but exciting," she said.

"And is more fun the longer you do it," Mowry added.

Today at the fair

Today’s highlights: REO Speedwagon on the Main Stage at 7:30 p.m. Xtreme Bulls in the fair arena at 7 p.m.

Tickets: Fair admission is $12 at the gate. Ages 65 and older and 6-12 are $5. Kids 5 and younger free. Five-day passes available. Reserved concert seats are $15.

Xtreme Bulls tickets are $15 for adults, $10 youth, includes fair admission. Box seats available.

All-day carnival ride wristbands are $30. The Davis Carnival hours are noon to 11 p.m. through Thursday and closes at midnight Friday and Saturday.

Parking: $5. Or buy a combo fair/bus pass for $12 or $7 for ages 6-12.

Transit: Ben Franklin Transit offers bus service to and from the fair each day or $1.50 each way per person or $4 each way for a family of five. Seniors and the disabled with valid transit ID cards ride for 75 cents each way. Kids age 5 and younger free.

Buses depart starting at 9:30 a.m. from Knight Street Transit Center in Richland, TRAC’s south parking lot in Pasco, the 22nd Street Transit Center in Pasco, as well as Kamiakin High and Lampson Stadium in Kennewick.

Kennewick service from Lampson Stadium and Kamiakin High depart every 30 minutes from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from the fairgrounds every 30 minutes from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Evening service from Kennewick every 15 minutes until 11:45 p.m. Pasco service from TRAC leaves every hour 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Buses leave from the Pasco Transit Center at 22nd Avenue and Sylvester Street every 30 minutes from 9:15 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. with evening service every 15 minutes until midnight.

Richland service from the Knight Street Center is every 30 minutes from 9:15 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., with evening service every 15 minutes until midnight.

During the day, Benton City and Prosser residents can also catch the Route 120 eastbound buses to connect with the Knight Street shuttle. Evening riders can catch the 7:10 p.m. shuttle from West Richland Transit Center.

Weather: Partly cloudy with highs about 90. Winds 10 to 15 mph.

Online: www.bentonfranklinfair.com

-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com

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