It’s not exactly the equivalent of organizing a space shot, but when roosters are crowing, sheep are baaing, children are amped and parents are stressed, the team behind the scenes that has worked to organize the La Plata County Fair is fairly sure it will have things under control.
One team member who La Plata County Extension Office Director Darrin Parmenter credits with being the glue behind a smooth-flowing fair, set to run Wednesday through Sunday, is Angela Fountain, the La Plata County Fairgrounds’ and Extension Office’s administrative assistant.
“The fair is a huge cumulation of things, and when it comes, that’s when the stress comes. Kids and parents can be stressed, and then you throw animals into the mix. But no matter what’s happening, who needs something, who’s missing something, Angela is always this calming force,” Parmenter said.
Fountain’s steady hand might stem back to her childhood in Durango when she was an avid 4-H participant. Horses were her main focus, but she also “dabbled” in quilts, baking, rabbits and ducks.
She even admits to having a goose – or at least she thought she had a goose until she sold it to someone more knowledgeable of the avian world who informed her that she was not selling a goose but a gander.
Fountain’s desk is the organizational and communications hub for thousands of volunteers, from hundreds of judges to 65 superintendents in charge of an array of 4-H and open-class competitions.
Not only are children invested in projects they’ve worked on, sometimes for longer than a year, but adults, with annual bragging rights on the line, can add their own dynamic of tension and ego-filled stress. There’s a lot of bragging rights on the line when it comes to open-class competitions that determine everything from who makes the county’s best cherry pie, pickled zucchini, quilt, flower arrangement, photograph or other competitions in hundreds of categories.
The organizational elbow grease behind 4-H and open-class competitions – ensuring the schedule is set, contestants entered, the proper number of judges assigned and judges have all the information and rules to ensure a fair and level contest – is similar. But Fountain admits it’s the 4-H kids who fuel her organizational efforts.
“The kids are the best part of my job. I call them ‘my kids,’” she said. “When I’m out with my family, and I run into them, I introduce them as ‘my kids,’ Fountain said.
Especially heartwarming for Fountain, who has been helping organize the fair for nine years, is seeing 4-H kids grow and mature.
“4-H is designed so you gradually get more advanced. Little kids decorate cakes with crumbled cookies and they work their way all the way up to making three-tier, four-tier wedding cakes,” she said. “I absolutely love seeing them get more advanced every year. It’s incredible to see them go to college, get married and have kids. A teacher gets them for one year, but I’ve had them for 10 years.”
To former 4-Her Fountain, the program is especially valuable for children.
She credits the required interview with judges and demonstration of their project, whether it be showing an animal or a photography project, with boosting participants’ communication skills, self-confidence and maturity levels.
“I didn’t realize how much 4-H was a learning experience until I was an adult, and I encountered something new, and I realized: ‘Hey wait, we learned about this in 4-H,’” she said.
Fountain believes attaching learning lessons about speaking, following best practices, parliamentary procedure, to a child’s innate passion for a rabbit, steer, goat, horse, gardening project or computer program is the genius behind 4-H.
“The worst thing I can imagine in my job is letting a kid down – like forgetting to register a 4-H kid’s project for state,” Fountain said.
During fair week, Fountain will be in the shadows, helping answer parents’ questions, tracking down needed information, ensuring lunch for judges is available.
Whatever curveballs that come, Parmenter said Fountain will be more than capable of fielding them.
“She always has a smile on her face. Me, I’m old and crabby. But she’ll be a calming force. She’ll say, ‘It’s OK, we can figure this out.’”