For more than a century, people have flocked to the Southwest Washington Fair in Chehalis for entertainment and socializing. They wander through livestock barns, examine prize-winning vegetables and flowers, and watch youngsters in 4-H and FFA show their cattle, horses, goats, sheep, and pigs. They listen to tunes from local bands and big-name entertainers, cheer from the grandstand for their favorite horses or demolition derby cars, tumble every which way on carnival rides, and nibble on elephant ears and corn on the cob in the midway. The Southwest Washington Fair, the only local fair mandated by the state Legislature to occur, has seen many changes throughout the past century as chronicled in the pages of this book. But it's still one of the best places to see friends and taste the flavor of community in small-town America.
One of the privileges of being born and raised in Lewis County is the annual pilgrimage to the Southwest Washington Fair. The fair is one of those traditions that hasn’t changed too much over the years. I have observed folks walking through the commercial buildings — moms pushing strollers with balloons tied on, followed by three or more little kids, and usually a husband in cowboy boots tagging further behind, just looking nonchalantly at all the displays. The smells, sounds, tastes of the fair are probably the same as they were so many years ago. The Southwest Washington Fair represents so much of what is special, good, and different about strong rural communities — kids enjoy the fruits of their 4-H labors, we celebrate farming, small town life, small local businesses, and an old-fashioned homemaking skills that have all but disappeared from most of modern society.
When I heard that a book had been written called Chapters of Life at the Southwest Washington Fair, I was quick to head over to Lewis County Historical Museum and pick up a copy. My hopes would be that the book would take me back to my youth and the smell of the burgers, elephant ears, scones and of course, corn on the cob. I was longing to recreate the happy memories of attending with my friends and riding every ride ‘til my head was spinning and of course, staying ‘til the fair closed on those wonderful hot August nights.
I am thrilled to report that for me, this book which was written by Julie McDonald Zander not only took me back but reminded me of all the fun, friendships and love that is still put into the fair and those who attend it. Yes, because of my long history in Lewis County I am at least familiar with most of the names which appear in the book, and I suggest for those who have lived in Lewis County all of their lives, they too will have that sense of community when you read this. It was so fun to go back to who was Little Miss Friendly in 1971, or see how much the local granges were thriving and what they were exhibiting at the fair. The pictures remind us all of the time that was much simple, and I truly believe that If you love Lewis County like I do, you will spend hours with your family enjoying the sights of the past Southwest Washington Fairs, all put together with love.
As a writer myself, I would have fled from the challenge of trying to research and author a history of the first century of the Southwest Washington Fair—all those years with changing personalities, exhibits, carnivals, special attractions, animals, ribbon winners and even rampaging floods. But Julie McDonald Zander dug into it with pluck and gusto and produced an amazingly comprehensive but delightful-to-read saga, generously illustrated throughout the photos of those who had fun at the fair for anywhere from a few days to years and years. after reading it, I'm ready to head to the fair and have a great time, along with a corn dog!
Chapters of Life at the Southwest Washington Fair, authored by Julie McDonald Zander, is one of my favorite books to share with others. As a lover of fairs since a small child, to a 4-H exhibitor, to now Lewis County Commissioner, I have always enjoyed local fairs. Most recently, my mother and I exhibited in the Floral Department. (At 99, my mother, June Gorter was the oldest exhibitor.) Reading this wonderful historical book, one finds fairs in Lewis County starting in the late 1800's, with present-day Southwest Washington Fair put in stature in 1909. I won't tell you any more about the beginning of Little Miss Friendly, the early entertainers, and the competitions—you will need to read it yourself. You will not be disappointed!
Julie McDonald Zander, a personal historian and owner of Chapters of Life, has published more than fifty individual, company, community, and organizational histories. After earning her bachelor's degree in in communications and political science, she worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for two decades and still writes a column once a week for The Chronicle in Centralia, Washington. She has helped organize conferences and contests for the Association of Personal Historians, Oregon Christian Writers, and Southwest Washington Writers. She and her husband, Larry, have two children.