If you’ve been to the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo in the past three or four decades, you’ve most likely seen Harvey Underwood.
Years ago, he volunteered in the parking lot and in other roles. Eventually, he joined the fair board, helping organize the Tri-Cities’ largest annual event.
He brings an RV and camps out for the fair’s run. There’s no place else he’d rather be.
“I love all of it,” Underwood said, from the grange booths to the rodeo to the fair food — especially the corn dogs.
The Grand Parade, which helps kick off fair week, also is a highlight.
And this year, Underwood, 79, of Kennewick, is the grand marshal.
He’ll ride up front, with several of his grandkids. “It’s an honor to get to do that,” he said.
The parade starts at 10 a.m. Aug. 20 in downtown Kennewick. The fair runs Aug. 23-27 at the Benton County fairgrounds, 1500 S. Oak St.
Underwood was born in Montana and moved to Sunnyside with his family at age 1. He stayed in the Lower Valley until he was 21, when he moved to the Tri-Cities.
He spent a career in agriculture, managing and owning farm supply businesses.
The Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo has been a significant part of his life.
He volunteered there with a Kiwanis group, and also helped in the 4-H horse department. Two of his sons showed horses at the fair.
In 1987, he joined the fair board. In that role, he’s not only helped make the fair happen year after year, but he’s helped shape its future. Helped it grow and thrive.
And he’s helped train a new generation of fair leaders.
“He was my mentor when I got on the board about 13 or 14 years ago. He took me under his wing,” said Brian Goulet, fair board president. “He’s a great teacher, a great mentor. The fair is in his heart.”
Underwood, who volunteers in his spare time at Lincoln Elementary School in Kennewick, said he loves that the fair brings smiles to people’s faces.
“When you go the fair and stand there and watch people, they’re happy. They’re not grumbling,” he said. “It’s been gratifying to be part of the biggest event in the Tri-Cities and make so many people happy.”
Underwood isn’t the only member of his family who’s part of fair leadership. His wife, Kathy, also is a longtime fair board member.
They have four children, 30 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren. One of Underwood’s favorite parts of the fair is buying ice cream cones for the little ones.
“I bet you I buy more ice cream cones than anybody there,” he said with a laugh.
After three decades on the fair board, including several years as president and as treasurer, Underwood retired this year. But he remains an emeritus member.
That means he gets to step back a bit, get a bit of a break. But he’ll stay involved.
The fair is a passion, something he loves.
“When I got my emeritus badge, I told them — ‘I wore my (fair board) badge for 30 years, very proudly,’ ” Underwood said. “ ‘I hope to get some years out of this one too.’ ”
For more on the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo, including a detailed scheduled and ticket information, go to bentonfranklinfair.com.