4-H family ends better than fair run

Siblings involved in programs for 20 years

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

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The county fair has been a family affair for Ken and Nancy Bisbee and their five children: Vanessa, Ian, Allegra, Donovan and Josette. For 20 years, the children have entered in numerous 4-H competitions including home arts, cooking, sewing and preserving. Mom and dad are also 4-H superintendents. The kids also showed guinea pigs and dairy goats.

But this year marks an end to the tradition, as the youngest sibling heads off to college.

"The fair was a big part of our summer," said Donovan, 22, the second-youngest. This was the first year that he didn't make it to the fair.

For Donovan, the reason for joining 4-H was simple: "Everyone else was doing it," he said.

The Bisbee's start in 4-H dates back to Nancy's childhood. She joined a local program in third grade and participated in cooking, sewing and other competitions until the sixth grade. When Nancy and Ken had their first child, Vanessa, Ken was eager to enroll her into the 4-H program at the school where he works, Southridge Elementary School in Ridgefield.

When the kids were old enough to participate, they joined the program. In 2002, all five children were 4-Hers.

"It was pretty hectic," Ken said.

The hardest part was coming home at the end of a day at the fair, Nancy said. Crates full of ingredients and supplies for cooking contests would pile up along with clothing, papers and other items, she said. At the end of the fair's run, the Bisbee home looked like an "archeological dig" with layers of items piled throughout, she said.

Cooking competitions were challenging -- the family needed to bring everything and didn't want to buy extra equipment or supplies if it wasn't necessary, making organization important, Ken said.

Things weren't as complicated this year.

Josette competed in a few baking and canning competitions. On Thursday, she competed in 4-H cavy fitting and showing, standing outside the small animal barn with her American Cavy named Dany and a group of four other recently-graduated seniors. After she and her colleagues showed their animals and answered a series of cavy- and 4-H related questions, the judge turned to the crowd and told younger participants it would be wise to learn what they could from the group.

"It (being a mentor) seems like a big responsibility but it's actually a lot of fun," Josette said.

Ken Bisbee said that for him, the fun was watching kids mature, turn into adults and come back to the program.

The Bisbee's second oldest, Ian, 26, who lives in Vancouver, now works at the fair as an assistant superintendent. Donovan was an assistant superintendent for the 4-H record book competition this year before the fair started.

Ken and Nancy Bisbee plan on staying involved in the fair in the future.

"It sounds silly but it's sad to think about not having anybody actually participating in the things next year," Nancy said.

Nancy hopes the family can coordinate vacations in the future so everyone, including their granddaughter, can participate in the fair one year.