The Kenai Peninsula Fair in Ninilchik has a long tradition closing out the summer on Alaska’s Playground with rain and mud and fun times for all. Not so in 2015, when fair goers came shirtless or in tank tops and flip flops. The sunniest skies in the Fair’s history drew record crowds to the biggest little fair in the country according to Fair manager Laura McGinnis. The fairgrounds were ready for the crowds rain or shine with many new facilities this year. “We’ve had a lot of amazing workers and brilliant ideas in reconfiguring our barn areas this year. The weather was a gift from above and Home Free packed them in and none of it would have been possible without our sponsor and volunteers,” said McGinnis.
The 4-H Junior Market Livestock (JML) auction which has been held rain or shine, mud or dust for the last 40 years was under new steel covering this year with a grandstand filled to capacity under sunny skies. Longtime 4-H leader Nancy Veal returned this year to tell the crowd the history of the JML auction. “In 1974 a man who ran a Baptist Mission in Kodiak brought two purebred Hereford heifers to the Palmer State Fair. He was disappointed in not finding an auction to sell his fat steers. Carrol Martin talked with him and told him that if he would come to the fair the next year with some 4-H members with steer projects, there would be a sale. So in 1975, youth and adults from the Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak and Palmer (including the Fair Manager and Dr. Lee McKinley, an Anchorage dentist living in the Palmer area, and grandfather of Dale Bagley, planned the first show and sale. It was a statewide activity and included six animals from Kodiak and one from the Kenai Peninsula. The auctioneer cancelled at the last minute so John Hale, Art Brundage and Carrol Martin took over. In fact, the sale was postponed for a time so more bidders could be solicited. Dr. McKinley, raised his own bid twice and finally purchased the Grand Champion steer for.95 cents a pound. He asked Carrol to come and butcher the beef at his ranch.
During those early years, Blakeley’s Auction from the Kenai Peninsula offered free auctioneering service. Norm Blakeley has continued supporting and auctioneering until this time.
In 1978 the first animal from Palmer entered the sale followed by one in 1979. In 1983 Delta became involved, making the event an even more complete statewide activity. In 1980, eighteen animals in the Palmer auction were from Mat-Su and eight were from either Kenai or Kodiak. By this time, Kenai had started their own sale in order to not put so much pressure on the buyers at the auction in Palmer.
In 1977 UNOCAL Chemical from the Kenai Peninsula came on board as a buyer. Until purchased by Agrium, they made sure there was 4-H pork for the James Martin Memorial Scholarship barbecue held at Kenai’s homecoming football game. After that company was sold, Chevron and Hilcorp continued the tradition. Not long after UNOCAL became a buyer, Governor Sheffield joined the team. Mr. Charles Brewster, owner of Brewster’s Department Store soon became involved and became a major supporter of the 4-H Market Program until his death. There is not enough time or room here to mention all the loyal supporters—volunteers and business owners who have made the 4-H JML the success it is today. We are in your debt! And we give Carrol and JoAnne Martin (JoAnne was the 4-H Agent during those early days) and Norm Blakeley our sincere thanks also. Carrol and Norm are passing the baton on this year. Chris Story was in the ring with Norm this year and Jeff and Kathryn Epperheimer manned the barbecue with Carrol offering support and advice,” said Veal.
Soldotna Rotary has supported the JML auction for some 20 years annually buying the Grand Champion hog and doing the accounting and billing for the sale. “In the early years folks came to auction to try and get a bargain on meat, but when Rotary got involved we made an event to support the work of our local youth and not only see they made a good profit but were encouraged to pursue agriculture as a way of raising college funds. The add-ons were created where businesses, individuals or politicians could contribute to the total bid,” said a Soldotna Rotarian.
In 2003 JML started selling a homegrown turkey with the proceeds going to charity. The first project sent books to Papua New Guinea. The next year the funds helped Rotary buy wheelchairs for children in third world countries. In 2005 the money went to a local girl needing brain surgery and last year funds were dedicated to a 4-H member battling an aggressive cancer. This year’s turkey was raised by Corbin Reichert and was purchased by Peak Oilfield Services. With add-ons the bird raised $860. “Our sincerest thanks to all the buyers through the years who have supported JML and our charity animal and the loyal sponsors and bidders who keep this program successful,” said Veal.