Boomer Beat: Heritage Fair celebrates McHenry County’s past

We often talk about the good old days, but on July 8, we have a chance to visit them at the annual Heritage Fair presented by the McHenry County Historical Society.

As Historical Society Administrator Nancy Fike described the upcoming fair, my mind was filled with pictures of people having fun while listening to a barbershop quartet singing in perfect harmony, seeing historic quilts, watching a magic show, bidding on a white elephant item. 

Do you know what a cake walk is? Nancy explained that you put a large number of delicious cakes in a circle and surround them with 20 numbered black squares. For fifty cents, you get to claim one of those squares. When the music stops, a random number is pulled. If it matches the number on your square, you can pick any cake that you would like.

The goofy antics of the contestants make the event all the more fun for spectators. Personally, I like the odds, too. A 20 to 1 chance to win beats the state lottery by a mile. 

For pure zaniness, the fair also features an adults-only game. One year, the event was a competition between men and women. The women had to put on bow ties. The men had to put on panty hose. Another year, participants divided into teams to see which could harness a horse the fastest. The horses were full-size wooden statues, but it still was quite a challenge for folks who are used to jumping in their car instead of onto a saddle.

Fred Ahrens of Huntley judged the event and laughed so hard he almost collapsed. I asked Nancy what this year’s Adults Only Game will be, but her lips were sealed. It is top secret until the day of the fair. 

When families first settled in McHenry County, they looked for reasons to get together. A barn raising, hay-cutting, national holiday or county fair provided the occasions for community.

We are fortunate to have the McHenry County Historical Society to provide an opportunity for us to share that community feeling. I know my husband will feel it is his civic duty to do some pie tasting. I doubt I will be able to resist the lure of auctioneer Russ Davis, who has a talent for making you laugh while you part with your money. Prices are kept low, so I am sure to get a bargain. 

For many of us, the Historical Society is an unknown gem, so coming to the fair also will provide a chance to see the facility. The current exhibit features the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouting. Kira Halvey, exhibit coordinator, worked with senior Girl Scout Sarah French to bring together items representing every decade of scouting history. It is sure to bring back some nostalgic feelings. 

As she approaches her retirement after 40 years as the administrator of the Historical Society, Nancy Fike has many reasons to be proud of the work the society has done.

“You don’t stay that long at a work place unless it’s a wonderful place to be and you get an opportunity to work with wonderful people,” she said.

Most of all, she is proud of saving historic buildings in McHenry County such as a country church in Riley Township, an 1867 school house, an 1885 town hall and an 1843 log cabin. I love this quote from her: “Preservation is not about the past, it is about the future.” 

So, come to the fair from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the McHenry County Historical Society on Main Street in Union. Have some brats, burgers, cotton candy and lemonade and greet your neighbors. While you are there, sign up to be a member. The society is supported solely by donations, and membership fees are low. 

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