McHenry County Fair more than just animals and rides: Officials seeking local talent to exhibit their work

The McHenry County Fair is looking for people of all ages and talents to show off their work, from paintings to food, for the home and creative arts exhibitions — but getting people involved has been a growing challenge.

Longtime fair official Judy Porter of McHenry has made it her mission to reverse the trend of diminishing participation in the traditional fair contests.

She said many people — even longtime county residents — don’t realize all the categories that are open to them to enter or just to observe and appreciate during the fair, which will be July 30 through Aug. 4 at the fairgrounds, 11900 Country Club Road, Woodstock.

When it comes to the fair, people often think of the livestock shows and the live entertainment but not all of the activities going on inside the buildings on the fairgrounds, said Porter, the antiques show superintendent.

Yet there are scores of categories in which to compete under the umbrellas of antiques, art, crafts and needlework, flowers, foods, grains, vegetables and fruit, honey, photography, sewing and writing.

Judy Porter talks to seniors June 27 in Huntley about entering some of dozens of contests available, from baking to sewing to antiques. Gregory Shaver/Shaw Media

“It’s for people in preschool to seniors,” Porter said. “You are never too old to enter.”

In her 17 years working with the fair, Porter has seen a dramatic decrease in the number of entries, mainly when the fair transitioned to having the forms available online only. The first year that organizers discontinued printing books with the forms, the fair saw a 30% to 50% drop in entries, Porter said. She has been hosting information meetings at local senior centers, churches and public libraries to spread the word on the exhibitions.

“You skip all kinds of people when you use one form of communication,” Porter said.

Porter herself has consistently participated in the sewing, needlework and antique shows. She is submitting a couple of hand-sewn items and antiques in this year’s show. The antiques are a way to honor her ancestors, she said.

“People don’t realize how fun it is,” Porter said. “You don’t just go to the fair, you are a part of the fair.”

After much persuasion by Porter, Arn Schaper, a retired pastor of First Congregational Church of Crystal Lake, first submitted his woodcarving art about 20 years ago. His wood-carved birds and 1868 documents of his great grandfather’s immigration papers from Germany have won him blue ribbons. Ever since then, Schaper has participated in the antiques show every year, he said.

“It got me fascinated,” he said. “You start, and once you’re hooked, you keep going.”

Porter said she has seen many county fairs shutter their doors for good, and she hopes future generations keep the McHenry County Fair going strong as it enters its 76th year.

“It’s our county fair, and we have to keep it going,” Porter said.

Submission forms are available online at The deadline to enter is July 14, and all items need to be submitted by July 29.

It is $15 to enter, plus $1 for every entry. The submission fee includes an entry pass to the fair, Porter said. First-, second- and third-place winners receive cash prizes that vary by class and category. Kids ages 7 and younger can participate in “The Littles” show, which doesn’t have judging or fees to enter, and ages 8 to 21 can participate in the junior show.

The McHenry County Fair saw about 80,000 attendees last year, and about 600 people submitted items to the home and creative arts exhibition, general office manager Diane Hellyer said. New “free, hands-on activities” will be at the fair this year, including remote-controlled car racing and ax throwing.

“Every year, they try to top last year,” Hellyer said.

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