By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
Lexa Kessler is making an 88-county dent in her bucket list.
The 24-year-old Hancock County woman knocked off a major task earlier this month with a trip to the Geauga County Fair. Over the past four summers, she has visited all 88 county fairs in Ohio, as well as the Ohio State Fair.
“I didn’t think I’d ever get it done. I thought years from now I’d be like, ‘Oh, I should have finished that’, so I’m glad I did,” she said.
The idea to join the fair circuit came up in 2014, sparked by a trip to the Paulding County Fair with her parents, grandparents and now fiancé, Grant Loveridge.
“When we were there, my grandpa and I were joking because it’s a very small fair and it’s free to get in. So every year I joke, ‘I’ll pay for them all to go,'” she recalled.
Her grandfather, Jerry Stauffer, wondered if there were other similarly sized fairs in the state and asked her to find out and report back.
“So then I was just onto it,” said Kessler.
As it turned out, it wasn’t such a far-fetched idea, said Kessler, a former member of the Barnstormers 4-H Club who showed pigs at the Hancock County Fair.
Growing up, she added, fair week was always her favorite time of the year.
“We always joke with our family that the fair is a holiday if you ask us,” said Kessler. “The more I’m talking to people about this adventure of going to all the fairs, there’s some people that are absolutely like, ‘That’s awesome, I’m jealous. I wish I’d thought of that.’ And then there’s others that are, ‘I hate the fair.’ I’m like, ‘No! That’s not possible!'”
Kessler graduated from Riverdale High School in 2012. She earned a degree in early childhood education at the University of Findlay in 2016 and is now back at Riverdale as the elementary computer teacher. Since she has summers off, she has had time to devote to traveling to the different fairs, most of which are held in June, July and August.
“There’s, like, nine fairs at once going on in Ohio, so it took a long time to get everywhere, let alone if I would have went to all of them in one year. I’m like, ‘People, I would be broke,'” she laughed.
With a passion for photography, Kessler photo documented each trip and has compiled a giant, detailed scrapbook.
“I have stats for them because I’m super weird,” she giggled. “I get geeky when it comes to that.”
According to the data, the Paulding County Fair was followed by 17 more in 2014. The next year, she attended just five fairs. (“I have no idea what I was doing in 2015, obviously slacking.”)
Kessler more than made up for it the next year by traveling to 40 county fairs. And she finished the list by attending 16 fairs this summer. “I saw big fairs, little fairs. Some fairs had no animals,” she said. “I was shocked because they’re at such random times throughout the summer, some of them, really, their main focus was, say, photography or sewing or this and that.”
Kessler kept an outlined map of Ohio tucked away in her backpack. As she ticked off another fair, she colored in that county with an orange marker.
She traveled the farthest — about four hours — to the Lawrence County Fair, with her cousin who was visiting from Florida.
“When we got there nobody was there,” she said. “The joke of it was, she literally made the farthest trip with me and she didn’t even get to see a fair.”
Kessler’s records reveal that her mother, Candy Kessler, and her sister, Lace, each accompanied her to 28 fairs, while her fiancé visited 17 fairs.
A couple of times Kessler visited two fairs in one day. Another time, she hit up three fairs with her sister-in-law.
Kessler usually left it up to her traveling companions to determine the day’s activities.
“If I would go with my brother, he would not miss a barn. We would walk through every single one and we would be there, like, a couple hours,” she said. “But say I go with one of my friends who are in it for the food. We would go there, make a lap and head out.”
“I was just happy that they were going with me.”
Kessler’s own preferences include watching the livestock shows and horse pulls.
“A couple of fairs had rodeos I was really impressed with,” she said. “My favorite thing, though, is to sit with food and people-watch. And I always go to a corn dog. A corn dog, caramel apple and a lemon shakeup, you can find them at every fair.”
Kessler has other friends who also used to show animals, and when they attend fairs together, they talk shows and animals.
“Then I have other friends who didn’t grow up around animals,” she said, explaining one friend heard a cow moo for the first time while attending a fair with her.
“She could not believe it was coming from a cow. And we laugh to this day that she’s like, ‘That’s coming from that thing?'”
Kessler’s father grew up in Darke County, and it was the biggest fair in the nation when she was a kid, because they used to set up actual houses people could walk through. It has gotten smaller through the years, but remains one of her favorites because of the memories.
“But I also say I will stand by Hancock (County) forever, just because of the fact hometown has the greatest trigger in your mind,” said Kessler. “I just can always picture the anticipation before you’re about to go into the ring. I can smell — literally if I close my eyes — what it smells like on show day with the dust kicked up and all the food and everything. People were probably so grossed out, but I was like, ‘I love that.'”
Kessler and Loveridge even had their engagement photos taken at the Ohio State Fair this summer.
The final fair visit was made Sept. 2 and included Kessler’s parents, Randy and Candy Kessler, and her future in-laws, Ryan and Christa Loveridge.
“The last one was super hot. Everyone was sweaty,” she said. “But I had a big group go and it was just a good time.”
All in all, Kessler said her fair odyssey was a great experience.
“I joked that my next thing I’m doing on my bucket list is marrying my best friend, so I’ll be getting married next fall. We’re getting married near Labor Day weekend so I told him, ‘Forever we can celebrate our anniversary at the fair.’ He’s like, ‘Of course,'” she laughed.
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