Dick Streissguth is a man of commitment. This year Streissguth and his wife Marilyn are celebrating their golden wed- ding anniversary, and 2005 also marks the man’s 50th year of volunteering at the Clark County Fair.
Happenstance started Stre- issguth’s long involvement with the fair. “The fair moved to where it is now in 1955. The fire district in Hazel Dell started in 1954. I was one of the original volunteers with the fire department and the fairgrounds was in our area, so it fell upon us to provide fire protection for the limited (number of) buildings there in those days,” explains the retired fire chief.
“We used to park a fire engine in a building out there,” Streissguth says of the fairgrounds. During the fair, “I’d sleep in the back of the fire engine,” he recounts. “It went on from there,” he says of his role in Southwest Washington’s largest sum- mertime event.
Streissguth has seen tre- mendous growth in the Clark County Fair over 50 years. “It used to be three days, then it went to seven and to 10. It be- came more and more difficult to staff (fire protection) with volunteers from one depart- ment, so we coordinated with other districts, had them take a day or two,” he explains.
“How it comes together is just amazing. ... There’s hours and hours and hours of work done by volunteers behind the scenes that nobody knows about,” shares Streissguth. “There are 2,000 volunteers who participate each year. That’s what makes it possible,” declares Streiss- guth, who serves on the Clark County Fair Board represent- ing the Hazel Dell/Salmon Creek Business Association.
“The fair staff and fair board work basically year round, and there are committees that work year round too,” he informs.
Streissguth admits he is a bit uneasy about being singled out as volunteer of the year. “There are lots of people who are far better volunteers than I am, who spend far more time at the fair ... who dedicate practically their whole non-working time to the fair. ... I just must have done it longer than them,” he concludes with a laugh.
Though it is a tremendous undertaking, Streissguth be- lieves the fair is an eminently worthwhile endeavor. “Going to the fair was an important part of life growing up,” says Streissguth, who frequented the Puyallup Fair as a child. As houses and commercial establishments sprout where farms used to operate in Clark County, “We need to maintain this (agricultural) heritage so people know about that,” contends Streiss- guth. “Agriculture is still here and alive, but it’s changing, so fair needs to reflect that past and show where we’re going in the future. ... The fair is needed in the community,” he declares.
Come August, the former fire chief gets to combine his love of fairs and vintage fire fighting equipment into one special event: a display documenting the evolution of firefighting equipment “It’s really going to be something else. It’s pretty exciting,” says Streissguth.
With the new exposition hall at the fairgrounds, “It left the old commercial build- ing with available space, and some of the fair people approached me and asked if I could arrange a show of fire apparatus and some of us (fire fighting collectors) got together,” says Streissguth, who owns eight fire engines built between 1914 and 1965.
The display in Commercial Building 1 will include more than 30 firefighting vehicles, plus fire alarms, nozzles, breathing apparatus and more. Highlights include an 1854 hose truck that served in Oregon City pre-statehood. On the other end of the spec- trum, there will be a brand- spanking-new Pierce fire engine that’s coming straight from the factory in Wiscon- sin to the Clark County Fair before it goes into service in McCleary, Washington.
All in all, “This is probably more than a lot of (fire sci- ence) museums,” Streissguth says of the collection.
While some wives might get a bit bent out of shape that their husband spends so much time on community issues, Streissguth’s wife Marilyn takes it in stride. “It hasn’t bothered me at all. I’m just very proud of him,” she says with sincerity. Plus, the fair and fire fighting are a way of life for the Streissguths. “The whole family is involved. It’s really nice: the grandchil- dren, our children are all into it. It’s been a really good fam- ily thing,” she declares.