Corn dogs, funnel cakes and tractor pull contests are all part of the picture that the words “State Fair” bring to mind. But for Ginjo Reed and thousands of others, the Missouri State Fair means reunions and wedding anniversaries.
“We celebrated our 50th anniversary right here on these grounds,” said Reed, 74, of Lees Summit.
Reed has been camping at the Missouri State Fair Public Campground with her husband, Ronald, for 40 years. Their only granddaughter Jamie Spencer of Tampa, Fla., has accompanied them for 22 years.
“Jamie threw a surprise party for our 50th wedding anniversary,” Reed said. “The campground was full of balloons and all our camp friends, some of whom we hadn’t seen for years, stopped by to congratulate us. It was the most memorable anniversary of my life.”
The Reeds are not the only ones who return to the campgrounds every year. The two campgrounds at the Missouri State Fair are tucked away behind the pomp and gaiety of the fair and have their own stories to tell. Thousands of people come from all over Missouri as well as other states to spend a week or two at the State Fair campgrounds. This year the State Fair has issued 3,983 visitors’ passes for the public campground. There is another campground for the handicapped, elderly and exhibitors, which requires reservations. There are close to 700 people staying at the inner campground.
Those wanting to camp at the public campground have to stand in line for as long as four days with their trailers in order to get a desirable spot.
“We didn’t get here till Monday, and the campground opened on Sunday. But we got lucky because someone moved from this spot,” said Bruce Brookshire of Rolla, who has been camping at the State Fair with his family for 20 years.
This time Bruce and his wife, Peggy, came with their daughter and her husband and their 8-month-old daughter.
“We have gotten to know so many people, made so many friends here over the years,” Peggy Brookshire said. “We talk to our friends on the phone to coordinate our visit, and we usually end up camping close to the same people most years.”
Camping next to the Brookshires is Harold Hutton, a 90-year-old retired farmer from Clarence who has been attending the State Fair for about 25 years.
“It’s friendship that brings me back every year,” Hutton said.
In addition to reuniting with friends, people also make new ones and remember friends who have passed away. And with luck, it is also a chance to meet long-lost friends.
“Years ago, this whole area was lined with our friends, but now they’re all gone,” Reed said. “But just the other day, a girl knocked on my door. I hadn’t seen her since she was 7 years old.”
The girl in Reed’s story is Mindi Keim of Kirksville, a first-time camper at the State Fair this year.
“Mindi told me she was on a mission to find me, and she did,” Reed said. “My mother used to baby-sit with her years ago.”
The campground is teeming with such stories of friendship and love, not easily expressed.
“How can you put down what brings us here in words?” asked 62-year-old Sharon Kirchoff of Jefferson City.