by Mitchell Kirk Pharos-Tribune
---- — The fair is meant for fun, but for these ladies, it’s also a lot of work.
Members of the Cass County Indiana Extension Homemakers Association are wrapping up their 14th year preparing food at the Cloverleaf Complex at the Cass County 4-H Association Fairgrounds, continuing a tradition of serving food at the fair that dates farther back than many of the members can remember.
The Indiana Extension Homemakers Association, which turned 100 this year, is made up of divisions all over the state that engage in homemaking education and community involvement.
At any time from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the fair, at least 14 of the association’s members along with other volunteers can be found in the complex flipping burgers, assembling hot dogs, filling drinks, chopping vegetables, putting salads together, washing dishes and more.
All of the hard work is about community involvement and raising money for the association’s future endeavors, said Jeanna Paschen, the association’s current president.
“A lot of our kids were in 4-H,” she said. “There was a need to provide a service here at the fair for the families. It’s a source of income for the extension homemakers and also so we can do more community service projects.”
Connie Stevens, a former president of the association, said the group made about $10,000 in revenue last year.
Paschen said half of the association’s funds raised go to the Cass County 4-H Association, with the other half going to the Homemakers. She said the group ultimately ends up using the funds to provide college scholarships, sewing quilts and blankets for nursing homes, sponsoring area families experiencing financial hardships and more. The group also makes donations to the U.S. military, various children’s hospitals and toward cancer research.
“It’s a really good cause for all of Cass County,” said Dee Butts, who has been a member of the association for more than 35 years.
Carla Thomas has been the food stand manager for the operation for the last 12 years. She said a month and a half of preparation time is required before fair week, part of which includes securing more than 300 pounds of beef.
“All for one big week a year,” Thomas said. “It’s a big challenge to order this much food and not run out.”
The work makes for a good bonding experience, several of the members said.
“It’s fun when our club gets together in there,” Paschen said. “We really have a good time. We’ve done so much together just having our meetings and getting stuff ready for our crafts shows and doing community service projects we all do together. We’re all pretty close friends.”
Susan Phillipy, a former president of the association, remarked on the bonding created by the experience amid the sizzling of the grill in the kitchen Tuesday.
“If you didn’t have that, you wouldn’t have this organization,” she said, adding that each member knows different things and can help others learn them.
Those who lined up outside of the kitchen’s windows and collected on the picnic tables in the shelter just outside seemed to be a sign many fairgoers appreciated the association’s efforts.
Amber Lybrook, who grew up in Cass County and now resides in New York, visited the fair this year to watch her father compete in swine events. She picked up a chicken sandwich made by the Homemakers at lunchtime Tuesday.
“I’ve never gotten chicken at a fair before, but it’s really good,” she said, going on to praise the variety at the food stand.
Membership at the association in Cass County has dwindled in recent years, several members said. There are currently about 200 in the association within its 11 clubs. There used to be a time when clubs would have 40 members, while now many have six to eight.
Phillipy is currently president of the Willing and Able Club.
“Not as able as we used to be,” she joked, adding that the club currently has eight members.
Butts agreed, adding she’d like to see the association recruit younger members.
A lot has changed now that it’s been a century since Purdue University started sending agents out to Indiana counties to teach women about home preservation, creating the Indiana Extension Homemakers Association.
Stevens said she hopes to preserve the association’s presence in Cass by continuing to invite her friends to join.
“Getting friends is the best way,” she said.
TODAY Day Sponsor - Dave Workman - LPL Financial Services Until 8 a.m.: Only 4-H swine not sold in 4-H auction will be released. 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.: 4-H Office Open 10 to 11 a.m.: Story Time at the Fair, WPP 1 p.m.: 4-H Dairy Females Show, EB 3 p.m.: Feud of the Fairgrounds, EB 5 to 5:30 p.m.: 4-H Dog Agility Demonstration, EB 5 p.m.-Closing: Amusement Rides -- wristbands: $15 each 6 p.m.: Mini 4-H Day Camp Recognition, 4-H Tenure Awards 6:30 p.m.: 4-H Parade of Champions and Judges Awards, EB 7 p.m.: Fireman's Water Ball Contest 7 p.m.: Tractor Pull, TPA 7:30 p.m.: 4-H Premier Livestock Showmanship Contest, EB 8 to 10 p.m.: Twisted Riddler (Rock), OS 8:30 p.m.: Community Center will close 9-10 p.m.: Release of 4-H Community Center projects Pork Producers Food Booth - 5 to 8 p.m. 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. Saturday.: All animals except swine not sold in 4-H auction will be released. Saturday Day Sponsor - Brodbeck Seeds 8 a.m.: All animals must be gone except auction animals 8 to 9 a.m.: Release of 4-H Community Center projects 1 p.m.: 4-H Livestock Auction - EB 7 p.m.: Tractor Pull, TPA