It’s been almost 30 years, but Kathy Obermark can still remember when Vernita Holdmeyer asked if she would like to “help out” on the home ec committee for the Washington Town and Country Fair.
“I think it was the summer of 1983,” recalled Obermark, who has chaired the committee since the mid-’90s.
“I thought I would just be helping,” she said with a smile. “I didn’t know there were meetings and that it was a big commitment.”
As it turned out, Obermark didn’t mind the work. She had been in 4-H growing up in Villa Ridge and was a longtime exhibitor at the Franklin County Fair in Union, so the home ec committee for her was and still is enjoyable.
“I like seeing all of the entries,” she remarked, noting there are some unusual ones once in a while.
Her favorite categories are counted cross- stitch, which she does herself, and quilts.
Committee members are allowed to enter, and Obermark has done so over the years, even won some Best of Shows.
The Biggest Change Has Been . . .
Obermark’s children were young when she joined the home ec committee; her oldest was 6 and the youngest, just 1. She didn’t work outside of the home when the kids were little, so she had time to give. Still, it made for a busy summer.
“The first five to 10 years are a blur,” said Obermark, laughing.
In the late ’80s, Obermark began serving as co-chair of the home ec committee with Dot Apprill. They shared the workload for five or more years.
Looking back, Obermark said not much has changed with the home ec show over the last 30 years. A few categories have been added or removed to stay up with the trends and people’s interests.
There have been changes in procedures, for sure. Premiums that used to be written by hand are now done on computers, said Obermark.
But the biggest change to the home ec show has been the addition of air conditioning, which was made only a few years ago.
Obermark remembers well the years at the home ec show before air conditioning.
“Some years were really hot, and the heat would get to you,” she said, recalling how the committee used to count out the premiums in a small portable building.
Air conditioning has been as welcome an addition for the home ec committee members, who stay in the building with the exhibits throughout the five-day Fair, as it has been for Fairgoers, said Obermark, noting that the cool building has no doubt increased foot traffic of the exhibit. Those Fairgoers who might not otherwise visit the home ec show now duck into the building to escape the heat and find themselves enjoying the display, she said.
Always ‘Positive,’ ‘UpBeat’
The home ec committee meets year-round, including an after-Fair meeting and a meeting in January to make any changes to the Fair catalog listing all of the home ec categories.
Summer, of course, is the busiest time. The pace picks up in early July as contestants begin turning in their preregistration forms.
“We usually get between 5,000 and 6,000 preregistrations,” said Obermark, noting only about 3,000 will actually be entered in the Fair because they don’t turn out as expected or any number of other reasons.
Contestants bring in their entries for judging on the Monday and Tuesday before the Fair begins. The entire home ec committee, about 13 or 14 members, works to accept the items, and their kids (ages 10 and older) help too, running the items to their section of the exhibit hall.
Judging begins Tuesday morning with pairs of judges going around the exhibit to decide the winners.
“It’s a hectic day,” said Obermark, noting she fields questions all day long. “It’s definitely the hardest and longest day of the Fair for us.”
Most of the judging is complete by 3 or 4 that afternoon, but Obermark stays on the grounds until 8 or 9 that night handling the final details.
Through all of it, Obermark remains eternally positive and optimistic, her co-workers say, even in the face of the extreme heat before the home ec building was air-conditioned.
“For years, it was always so hot, but Kathy always had a positive attitude,” said Dave Wehmeyer, longtime chair of the Fair’s horticulture/floriculture show.
“She never complained. She would just say, ‘Maybe it will be better next year.’ ”
Obermark maintains the same attitude despite any complications or problems that come up with the show or its entries, said Patty Wood, a member of the home ec committee since 1994.
“She always makes everyone feel comfortable,” said Wood, noting that when questions come up about an entry, Obermark always looks for the best solution.
“She’s always so positive and upbeat. She’ll just say, ‘What would be the best way to handle this? Could we enter it in a different category?’ ”
Wood also noted that Obermark is unflappable, even when tags fall off one of the thousands of entries in the exhibit and no one else is sure which item it belongs to.
“She always seems to know where it goes,” said Wood. “She just remembers somehow.”
That may just be part of her organized nature. Obermark meets judges at the exhibit hall with ribbons arranged neatly in flat boxes, all ready to be attached to the blue, red or Best in Show item.
“She always has whatever item is needed right on hand,” said Wood.
And come Sunday, when it’s time to take photos of the many home ec winners for The Missourian, and the exhibit hall gets chaotic and hectic, Obermark continues as cool as a cucumber.
“She doesn’t let the stress get to her,” said Wood. “She keeps everyone upbeat.”
“She really keeps her calm,” he said.
Fair Coordinator Jennifer Giesike jokes with Obermark that she isn’t allowed ever to quit the home ec committee because of how smoothly things run under her leadership.
“She is an absolute joy to work with,” said Giesike. “She’s just great with people, good with the public.
“She’s always willing to listen to new ideas, to take on new ideas (for home ec categories).”
Last year when Giesike came to her with the idea for adding the Bucket of Junk contest, Obermark welcomed it.
“She is just very positive, very energetic and very willing to do whatever needs to be done,” said Giesike.
Work, V.F.W. Auxiliary
Obermark was a senior at Washington High School when her family moved from Villa Ridge to Washington.
She and her husband, Ray, were married in 1971. They have four children, Jennifer, Jon, Jeff and Jill.
Obermark, who now lives in Krakow, has had various jobs over the years. In 1988 she began working in the cafeteria at St. Francis Borgia Regional High School, which allowed her to be off over the summer. When an opening came up as the school’s bookkeeper, she moved to that position, which is year-round.
Obermark also worked a few years at Edison Brothers, when it had a factory in town, then later at the Franklin County Country Club bar and grill.
For years she also has worked at the Washington Area Chamber of Commerce over the summer doing office work to help prepare for the start of the annual Fair.
About 15 years ago, Ray Obermark, a Vietnam veteran, joined the Washington V.F.W. and five years later, Kathy joined the auxiliary.
“They were recruiting new members, and Ray was involved with the Honor Guard, so I do that with him now,” said Obermark, who currently serves as treasurer.
The auxiliary helps with the weekly Tuesday night bingo at the V.F.W. Hall and also hosts lunches for funerals and for the monthly V.F.W. dance.
All the money that’s raised is donated to various causes, said Obermark, noting the auxiliary members made a quilt which they raffled off and donated the money to the Franklin County Honor Flight, which sponsors and organizes trips for local veterans to Washington, D.C., to see and tour the many war memorials.
Obermark said being in the auxiliary is rewarding.
“I like being in the parades, going to the Memorial Day service each year,” she said.