Pictured above is Jerry Burns, far right, with his reserve champion steer at the 1965 Union County Fair. Also pictured, from left to right, are Dave Burns, Paul King and Ken Stanley. In the middle right photo is Curtis Burns with the hog he showed at the 1993 Union County Fair. In the far right photo is Camdyn Burns with her steer at the 2017 Union County Fair.
For many families, the Union County Fair isn’t just a week-long event, but a tradition that spans years.
The Burns Family, whose members have shown at the fair through three generations, is an epitome of this tradition.
Jerry Burns showed cattle in the 1960s, and his son, Curtis, followed the tradition by showing horses, hogs and steers for 11 years. His daughter, Camdyn, now shows steers as well.
“You look forward to it every single year,” Curtis said.
Through decades of showing, members of the Burns Family have won numerous awards in nearly every category they’ve shown in.
This year marks the 55th anniversary of Jerry winning grand champion steer in 1964, a feat his granddaughter is hoping to repeat.
Aiming for grand champion steer is no small task, then or now. Curtis said most of the year revolves around preparing to show livestock at the fair, with the only downtime from August to October.
He said they have to plan their vacations and time away from home based on this schedule, but Camdyn said she much prefers the time of year when she has her animal.
“(The fair) is like our vacation,” she said. “We almost never come home during it.”
Camdyn said she’s generally in the barn preparing to show her animal between 6 and 7 a.m., and is there until late in the evening.
After the day’s events are over, the activities are far from it. Camdyn said she spends every night of the fair bonding with those that she’s competing alongside.
She said there’s a nightly routine of celebrating each day’s work by getting milkshakes together at the local store. Then, they return to the fairgrounds to play tee-ball games or frisbee in the show ring, although her favorite is pretending like they’re the judges and sitting in their area.
“We make a lot of memories there,” Camdyn said.
Despite the years that have passed, Curtis said many of the experiences his children have shared with him mirror the memories he has of the fairgrounds.
“That was another thing I remember from growing up: there were always shenanigans, because you’re all kids,” he said.
While there are many similarities, Curtis said there are plenty of ways he’s seen the fair grow in the years since he showed.
“It has changed so much up there and it continues to change in a good way,” Curtis said.
He said one of the largest differences is the improved quality of the facilities. As someone who showed hogs, he mentioned how the gates in the hog barn are now metal instead of the wooden ones when he was there. He also said the new show ring is much nicer than the one he showed in.
However, Curtis said the most notable difference is the expansion of the fair. He said the majority of the participants he competed alongside were other farm families, but now children from any part of the county can compete.
“It always used to be, you live in the country so you do 4-H,” Curtis said. “Now you’ve got so many of these smaller projects like rabbits and ducks and chickens, so there are a lot of inner city kids in Marysville that can do 4-H.”
Regardless of where you grew up, on a farm like he did, or downtown, Curtis said participating in the fair teaches children traits that are needed in adult life.
“You learn so much, you meet a lot of new kids… It’s a good avenue for responsibility and work ethic,” he said. “You’ve got a project and it depends on you.”
This degree of responsibility sparks camaraderie between participants that Curtis said could turn a week spent together into a lifelong friendship.
“Any night of the week, we’ve got six to 10 kids in the camper with us,” he said. “It’s a big family down there.”
Curtis said anyone who shows at the fair feels like a relative, especially as he sees his children creating friendships with the families of the people he showed with.
“Call half the parents bad parents, but while I’m up there, I don’t have to watch the kids,” Curtis said. “You know they’re safe because you know everyone up there and you grew up with them. Everyone looks out for everyone up there.”
Through generations of experiences and years spent at the fairgrounds, Curtis said these relationships he and his family have made there are as important as any prize.
“You want to go and you want to win… but between the memories you make, is it that big of a deal?” Curtis said.
While his family has already has over half a century worth of memories at the fair, Curtis said he hopes the tradition will be carried on much longer.
“The amount of families that are down there in those barns – it’s huge and that’s what keeps the fair going,” Curtis said. “Hopefully it stays around… I want my kids’ kids to be able to show there, if that’s what they want to do.”
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