Fair Lady devoted to antique building display

Shirley Eggersman is custodian of Jackson County’s past, a protector of the local communities’ heritage through her volunteer job gathering photographs shown each summer at the county fair.

A visitor to the annual fair who walks into the antique building will be greeted by history on display, which for the last approximately 20 years has been provided courtesy of Eggersman and many other volunteers.

Eggersman, going on 86, shared the role with her late husband, Lynn, for five years but has continued as the hunter-gatherer of photographs for most of the last 15 years. She said she skipped participating one year and no one fulfilled the task.

Whether it is literally putting out a call to her friends and neighbors in Driftwood Township, haunting yard and garage sales, visiting Goodwill stores or just always being on the prowl for remnants depicting scenes representative of the area, Eggersman has become identified with the job, even though she sometimes considers surrendering it.

“Sometimes, when people bring me a picture, I go, ‘Don’t you want this job?’ They say, ‘No, you do it,’” she said.

It might be said the Jackson County Fair runs in the lifetime local resident’s blood. Eggersman has passed through life stages connected to the fair.

When she was a child, Eggersman said she attended with her parents. They took a picnic lunch, perhaps complemented by Kool-Aid to drink, and the highlight activity was twirling around on carnival rides.

Eggersman was named for Shirley Temple, and she was always a fan of her movies. An aficionado of films, particularly westerns, Eggersman once came into possession of some Shirley Temple dolls and inserted them into antique building displays.

“Since I was a little girl, I loved movie stars,” Eggersman said.

When Eggersman was a little bit older, in her 20s, the attraction was taking in the fair to see friends and relatives, more of a social occasion. Although she has always made a point of patronizing one of the full meal booths, Eggersman was no different than most when it came to investing in a treat or two of fair food. The pineapple whirl ice cream cones tickled her palate, but so did the cotton candy.

“Cotton candy,” she said. “That was it.”

In her younger days, first Eggersman and her parents, then she and her husband, merely dropped in on the fair once a year. Since she became intently involved in chasing down pictures for the antique building, she spends more time on the grounds and expects to do so again this year during the July 24 to 30 event.

While that is a time-consuming week, much time is spent producing the exhibit spread over a long leadup time. Wherever she goes, Eggersman is conscious of scooping up proper items for display. Her interest was piqued two decades ago by the late Edna Mae Smith, who helped organize Fort Vallonia Days and requested help.

Eventually, Eggersman became the one asking for help. She may telephone longtime residents or approach them in public requesting any historical items that might be appropriate for showing.

“You call, you beg,” Eggersman said. “As long as I’ve been at it, I’m running out of people to ask.”

Eggersman uses the Brownstown Public Library as an office, sorting through her collected photos, making copies, returning the originals to the owners, then mounting her copies on construction paper, sticking them on with reliable rubber cement.

Son Ricky helps with that task. This year, fairgoers will see the photos attached to orange paper. This year’s fair theme for the antique building is “Friends, Family and Festival.” That is general enough that Eggersman thinks finalizing photo choices will be easier than usual.

“This year, I can put up anything,” she said. “I get a lot of them given to me when people find out it’s for the fair. Most people are willing to help out.”

Each year, when the fair concludes, Eggersman takes down the photos, trims around the edges and inserts them into a scrapbook to maintain a record and for safe-keeping. Last year’s display was based on a military theme, and a display included a model of the USS Indianapolis, the famous U.S. Navy World War II ship sunk by Japanese forces in 1945.

“I had a cousin from Seymour who went down on the USS Indianapolis,” Eggersman said.

In addition to putting in the advance picture time, Eggersman helps set up the antique building display. Over the years, she has entered a quilt in fair competition, won a second place award with an antique plate, something that surprised her, and helped others fill out paperwork properly. She has spent time working in the Farm Bureau Building and elsewhere.

Although the building carries the word “antique” in its name and the idea generally is retrospective, Eggersman has noted a recent trend among young people. Unless accompanied by grandparents, they want to see newer photos of the surroundings, not necessarily ones from way back.

“I’ve been starting to have younger pictures,” Eggersman said.

Older photographs, newer photographs, either way, Eggersman will shepherd the display through the long, festive week. Unlike those early days when she showed up for the fair just once a year, she plans to be on hand for the entire show.

“I practically live at the fair,” Eggersman said.