Ferris wheel at Hillsdale County Fair. COLLEGIAN | Josephine von Dohlen

In Hillsdale, it’s the people, it’s tra­dition, it’s the fair.

Flooded with com­munity members, college stu­dents, and out-of-town vis­itors, the Hillsdale County Fair­grounds opened Sunday for the 168th county fair.

Named “The Most Popular Fair on Earth,” the fair brings together gen­er­a­tions of tra­di­tions for a week of animal shows, grand­stand per­for­mances, and, of course, the rides and food.

Con­sidered as one of their own tra­di­tions, the Bowman family has been showing cattle for over 85 years. Andrea Bowman, head of the Hillsdale County Dairy Leaders, said her daughter, Ellie, is the fourth gen­er­ation in her family to be showing cows at the fair. Ellie Bowman, who is now eight, has been showing cows since she was three years old.

4‑H Club has been an integral part of the Bowman’s lives, so much so that the family lends their cows to be shown by other children involved with 4‑H Club, so that they may have an oppor­tunity to par­tic­ipate with an animal as well, Andrea Bowman said.

Andrea Bowman said they are proud of this tra­dition, and the char­acter which it instills in the kids. 4‑H is an agri­cul­turally focused orga­ni­zation that focuses on cit­i­zenship, healthy living, science, engi­neering, and tech­nology pro­grams.

Harold Finegan, the super­in­tendent of the poultry and rabbit barn, has been a lifelong fairgoer.  “This is the biggest bunch we’ve had in four years,” Finegan said, speaking about the 180 rabbits, 60 pigeons, and dozens of chickens occu­pying the barn.

It’s mostly children who bring in the animals, Finegan said. “One child brought in 35 rabbits this year.”

Finegan grew up in Hillsdale, and although he moved to Adrian, he still comes to vol­unteer at the fair every year. He even made each of the steel animal crates in the barn himself.

Janell Morse, assistant super­in­tendent of the live­stock birthing tent, said that she’s been going to the fair since she was “being pushed around in a stroller.” Her uncle, David Town, super­in­tendent of the birthing tent, started the tent five years ago, she said.

Morse is an OB-GYN assistant and she grew up on a farm, so helping both people and animals enter the world comes “nat­u­rally” she said. Morse said she enjoys seeing the kids learning from the animals in the barn and then relating it to humans. The pregnant cows are rotated out after giving birth each day, so that calves can be born in the fair throughout the week.

For Keith Stickley, founder of the Great American Sideshow Company, tra­dition at the county fair comes from more than just the live­stock. As one of the last two circus sideshows left in the nation, Stickley is working hard to pre­serve the car­nival tra­dition that used to be popular at so many county fairs.

“Hillsdale is big about keeping history and tra­dition alive,” Stickley said.

The fair board sub­si­dized admission for the “Palace of Illu­sions” show this year to encourage atten­dance and to give each fairgoer a chance to expe­rience the wonder.

The first Hillsdale County Fair was held in 1851, outside of the cour­t­house at the time.

Fair His­torian Cinda Walton dressed in the attire of a woman of the late 1800’s, said that few things have changed in the 168 years that the fair has been around.

Elec­tricity, for example, is a great asset to the grounds, and a nec­essary one at that.

There are, however, the ever-returning problems of parking and nav­i­gating around the trees.

“One thing that hasn’t changed, and we don’t want to change, is that it’s a fair, and not a car­nival,” Walton said. “It’s a home­coming.”

The fair will con­tinue until Sat­urday. Tickets can be pur­chased at the gate: $5 for adults, $1 for children ages 10 – 14. Senior cit­izens can receive a $3 dis­count on Friday for Senior Cit­izens’ Day.

— Josephine von Dohlen con­tributed to this report