BROWNSTOWN — On Aug. 14, 1939, the Jackson County Free Fair was held on the current fairgrounds, making it the first Jackson County Fair held on the grounds that fairgoers have come to know and love over the ensuing years.
At least one person, Bill Kamman, 94, of Seymour has attended every fair since then and still makes his way out to the fairgrounds every July to chat with whomever wants to strike up a conversation.
“I enjoy mainly just going out and just talking to people,” he said. “I’ve known so many people here in Jackson County all these years. I always have someone to talk to.”
Kamman was born and raised in Seymour and made a living as a watermelon and wheat farmer.
He retired in 2000 when he was 73.
Kamman said he raised watermelons for 42 years until he decided to stop growing them and only focused on wheat because his wife, Joy Kamman, retired in 1991 and they wanted to have more free time in the summers. She passed away in 2015.
This year is Kamman’s 80th year attending the fair. He said he would’ve been 11 years old during that first fair and remembered walking to the fairgrounds with his family because they didn’t own a car at the time.
The fairgrounds were located near a “county farm” that was built on county property near Brownstown. That farm provided food to county residents in need, Kamman said.
The Aug. 23, 1939, issue of The Jackson County Banner reported the fair was one of the biggest outdoor events in the county’s history with an estimate of 40,000 people attending over the course of a week.
Today, an estimated 100,000 people attend the Jackson County Fair over the seven-day run.
One distinct memory that Kamman had from that first fair was “God Bless America” sung by popular singer Kate Smith in the loudspeakers while he was there.
He said the song got a lot of radio play at the time, and Smith was probably the best-known singing star at the time.
Kamman said he always remembered there being a midway, and he didn’t attend the fair to eat food like many do today.
The church stands that sell food at the fair weren’t built until the 1940s and ‘50s, he said.
Only three fairs have been canceled.
The fairs that had been planned for 1942 and 1943 were canceled due to World War II.
Two years ago, the 2020 edition of the fair was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The closest that Kamman said he came to not attending the fair was in 1946 when he signed up for the military draft after he turned 18.
Even though the war had been over since September 1945, the draft was still active, and Kamman said he received a letter telling him that he had been called into active service.
On May 14, 1946, Kamman said he heard American broadcaster Lowell Thomas on the radio play audio from President Harry S. Truman saying the draft had been ended.
This was two weeks before Kamman was supposed to leave for the military, he said.
Kamman’s favorite foods at the fair are tenderloin from Immanuel Lutheran Church, of which he is a member, and a pineapple whip ice cream cone.
His annual fair routine includes bringing an aluminum lawn chair that he has brought to the fair for around 40 years. The chair has been able to persevere over all of this time because he replaces the webbing on it.
Jami VonDielingen, Kamman’s granddaughter, said he took his chair to the fair on Monday but never sat in it because he was “up all night talking to people.”
Kamman normally places his chair near the antique building stage but sometimes sits on the bench outside of the same building.
Because he grew watermelons, Kamman said his involvement at the fair was mainly exhibiting watermelons.
He said he also remembered he did some work on a 1950 Case DC tractor and brought it to the fair one year.
For 30 years, he also square danced with his wife as part of the Star Promenaders Square dance club.
One of his favorite fair memories was in the 1990s when his grandson had been trying all week to win the mouse game at the fair where you bet quarters on what number it will land on.
After many attempts at the game, Kamman said he saw the number that the mouse chose and it wasn’t his grandson’s.
Despite this, the carnival worker said he was a winner and gave him a reward.
A fair fanatic whether it’s in Jackson County or out of state, Kamman said he has been to state fairs in Colorado, Washington, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois.
He’s also a big fan of the Indiana State Fair and said it’s as good as any state fair in the country.