Each year, as summer comes to an end, Darrell Cave packs up the RV and heads west for a 10-day vacation.
The Parsons resident’s eyes aren’t set on the mountains or a sandy beach. Instead, he and his wife, Carol Lewis, always look forward to their trip to Hutchinson where the Kansas State Fair — a tribute to all things Kansas — will soon come to life.
For the Caves, now in their 60s, it is their mutual love of music — topped off with a plethora of yearly favorites — that brings them back each year. The fair is a place where most food is deep-fried and thrust onto a stick, where a pumpkin weighs nearly 1,000 pounds and judges study the ample rumps of the state’s best livestock. You can find racing pigs and roving entertainment. You can shop for the latest kitchen innovations and watch buckets of butter transform into a masterpiece.
And, every evening, as the neon lights of the midway flicker on, the couple find their front-row seats in the grandstand to listen to the nightly show.
It was a concert that drew Cave to his first fair around 1980. Forty years later, he rarely misses the annual event.
“I remember going in my 20s, seeing Sawyer Brown on the free stage, and all it cost was the price of a ticket and gas to get here,” said Cave of the country music band. “There are so many things that bring back memories. We enjoy the buildings, the free music, the demonstrations — there is so much to see and look at. It’s the largest celebration of Kansas — and I fully believe it is.”
For many people and many generations, the Kansas State Fair has its own notable spot on the September calendar. Moreover, Kansans like Cave prove you’re never too old to enjoy the fair.
With that in mind, this year’s Kansas State Fair will cater to the senior demographic — designating Thursday, Sept. 15, as Young at Heart Day.
The day is sponsored by the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.
“The fair is a place for the ageless,” said Kansas State Fair’s General Manager Bryan Schulz. “That’s why this year’s fair will have a special day for our 55-and-older crowd where they can come and enjoy the event with a special price.”
Here’s what you need to know to plan your adventure.
What it is About
“Young at Heart Day reminds us that the Kansas State Fair is chock-full of nostalgia and traditions,” Schulz said. “For these fairgoers, these fair favorites have stood the test of time and bring them back to being young at heart.”
“Young at Heart Day also allows seniors to learn more about state programs,” said Emily Blanch, Medicare program manager for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. Department staff will be on hand to highlight the Medicare program at their booth in the Meadowlark Building.
Young at Heart Deals
If you are age 55 or older, there is a great deal for you.
The Kansas State Fair is offering $2 admission on Young at Heart Day — allowing older fairgoers to enjoy the fair on one of the less crowded days.
“Being an older adult has its perks and who doesn’t like discounts?” said Blanch. “We want to help young at hearts save money and have fun at the same time.”
If you can’t make it on Sept. 15, no worries. Senior gate tickets are $4 if purchased before Sept. 8. Meanwhile, the Kansas State Fair also offers a special $35 Senior Pack that includes two senior admission tickets, $20 in food coupons, two railroad tickets and two round-trip Sky Ride tickets.
Can’t Miss Traditions
Gate admission is well worth the value of the fair’s free acts.
Ron Diamond — the fair’s longtime comic hypnotist, returns to the People’s Bank Arena for daily shows.
“I rank Ron Diamond as a have-to-see show every year,” said Cave. “It’s always a lot of fun.”
Cave said he and his wife love to browse the fair’s competition buildings. They stroll through the rabbits and poultry barns, watch youth livestock shows and check out the 4-H projects. The Domestic Arts building is a favorite with its hand-made entries like quilts, canning and the coveted Governor’s Cookie Jar, along with various demonstrations.
Other Free Highlights
Roving Robots — Max, a 9-foot-tall robot, along with his monster truck sidekick, Nitro will be roaming the grounds.
Flying Fools at Gottschalk Park — This high-energy performance features acrobatic divers jumping from heights of 10, 20, 30 and 80 feet.
Dangerous Feats of Comedy Roving Act — Watch a father and son team accomplish extreme stunts and tricks combined with family-friendly laughs.
Chainsaw artist Gary Keenan — Owls, eagles, bears, alligators and more — Keenan can craft all of these from a log. This chainsaw carver’s natural talent is a can’t miss. Find him at the north end of Lake Talbott.
Young at Heart Day Highlights
Blanch said the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services is sponsoring one of the fair’s trams, which takes fairgoers around the grounds. On Young at Heart Day, a prepared message from Governor Laura Kelly will play for tram riders, highlighting the importance of healthcare fraud protection.
From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., fun giveaways will be distributed at the gates as guests enter the fairgrounds, Blanch added. Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas, or SHICK, volunteers will be onsite to greet guests and answer questions about Medicare and other insurance issues.
Governor Kelly also typically attends this day to tour the grounds and present special awards, such as Governor’s Cookie Jar and giant pumpkin honors.
The night ends with a fair-sponsored pub crawl and a grandstand concert featuring classic rockers Great White and Quiet Riot.
“You’re never too old to enjoy the state fair,” Blanch said. “So many of Kansas’ older adults grew up with the tradition of the state fair. From antique tractor and livestock shows to pie contests and carnival rides, memories are different for each generation. These fond memories are woven into the fabric of what makes the fair special and makes us all feel young at heart.”
Young at hearts Dennis and Sherry Teter, of Buhler, are passing on those traditions to the next generation. Dennis hasn’t missed a fair for nearly 80 years — since the day he was born. Sherry has attended since birth, too — a 70-year tradition.
They designate one day of the fair as family day. The Teters bring their children and grandchildren. They stop at the horse shows and watch the free entertainment on the fair stages. The grandkids take a trip on the train and Ye Old Mill boat ride — the fair’s oldest amusements. There is always time for a fair favorite Pronto Pup, along with Mexican cuisine served by Our Lady of Guadalupe parishioners.
“It’s Kansas,” Sherry Teter said of why she attends. “And we’re passing the tradition down to our grandkids and now a great-granddaughter. I already have my tickets for this year.”
Traditions shared across generations are what makes the fair special, Schulz said.
“The Kansas State Fair connects generations of Kansans,” he said. “There are so many wonderful memories and traditions being built year after year. It is the one time of year when the kid comes out in all of us.”