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‘Nothing is normal now,’ but 4-H and fair carry on

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Opening ceremonies at the Belmont County Junior Fair Wednesday included a message to take heart and recognition for all involved in continuing the junior fair after the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic put a stop to the full fair.

Speakers and participants were recognized outside one of the 4-H show barns. One of the guest speakers at the ceremony was Jane Keyser, who retired this year after working 31 years with Ohio State University, including serving as the extension educator for past Belmont County Junior Fairs.

She related to the situation of many in 4-H, speaking of the pandemic’s disruption, which also meant a lack of closure to mark the end of her career after years of working with youth and teens.

“Many of these young people, who are now adults, will never know how much they’ve meant to me over the years,” she said. “These 4-Hers were really my kids.”

Keyser spoke of the many high school seniors who were denied graduation ceremonies, baseball and prom seasons, and other events to mark this transition.

“COVID-19 has taken its toll on everyone,” Keyser said.

She read from a message she sent to 4-H members dealing with such issues as the cancellation of 4-H camp, where she reminded the youth to take heart.

“Don’t live in the grief, don’t live in the sadness, don’t live in the anger. Use that energy to be creative, and be thankful for what we still have: each other. Nothing is normal now, but that’s OK. One day 4-H will get back on track, and when it does you will appreciate it more,” she said. “When things get tough, we get stronger, that’s how God made us.”

Keyser commended the extension staff and junior fair board for their adaptability in still holding the fair. She also pointed out the many improvements to the fairgrounds since moving the fair from St. Clairsville 11 years ago.

“4-H and county fairs are still helping people making memories, even during COVID-19,” Keyser said.

Attendees also heard from Ohio Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, who has continued to advise the fair board on how to hold the event. Jones added that county fairs are foundational to Ohio’s agricultural community. He spoke about his participation in Gov. Mike DeWine’s task force in May to address county fairs.

“The underlying theme was, we had to do a minimum of a junior fair because we knew the importance of a junior fair program in every county,” Jones said, adding some counties in his district have not held junior fairs or livestock sales. “Those kids have worked hard. They deserve that. … We’d like to have seen full fairs, and that was our goal. Unfortunately that did not work.”

He commended the county tourism council and the commissioners for their assistance in obtaining funding for the latest upgrades to the fairgrounds, including blacktopping and additions to the buildings. The fair board also provided assistance and donations.

Fair board President Ed Campbell and fair board member David Jones recognized the auditor, port authority, commissioners, sheriff and the Ohio Department of Transportation, as well as donors and volunteers.

“It was a trying year, and we tried to do everything we possibly can to make this successful,” David Jones said.

Campbell said all are welcome at the fair, but masks and social distancing are required.

The fair continues through Sunday at the fairgrounds off Roscoe Road west of St. Clairsville.

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