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Howard County Fair's first family

When the 68th annual Howard County Fair opens in West Friendship Saturday, Aug. 3, you can bank on it including at least the following: sheep, pigs, apple pies and at least a couple of Moxleys.

For as long as there's been a Howard County Fair, there's been a member of the Moxley family, which has farmed in Howard County for nearly a century, involved.

It started in 1946, when James Robert Moxley helped organize the first fair and his teenage son James Jr., took part as a 4-H member.

Twenty-five years later, at the fair's silver anniversary, James Jr. was president of the Howard County Fair, his wife Dessie was chairwoman of the Home Arts  Department, and a few of their children, including James  Robert "Rob" Moxley III, participated as 4-H members. 

Twenty-five years after that, at the fair's golden anniversary, Rob Moxley was president of the county fair, and his wife, Ann, was about to become chairman of admissions.

And this year, 20-year-old James Robert Moxley IV will be helping his younger sister, Ellen, and brother, Chris, show animals at the fair. Father Rob, though only tangentially involved now, also will be there, and so will his younger brother Mark Moxley, who raises cattle, and his two sons, 11 and 8, showing animals.

Talk about your family affairs.

"The fair's the kind of thing that tends to be handed down from generation to generation," said Rob Moxley, 53, with no small understatement. "There's no beginning or end, just kind of a cycle you work your way through."

Fair President Blair Hill said several Howard County families have deep roots in the county fair — including his own, since his father is a past president and his son and daughter participate as 4-H members. But few if any families can claim as long and deep a connection as the Moxleys. 

"They're absolutely staples in the county and at the fair," said Hill, whose family farm is in Lisbon. "I know they've got us beat by a generation."

Charles Feaga, a former fair board member, former County Council member and longtime Ellicott City farmer, said the Moxleys "represent what the Howard County Fair is all about. They are largely responsible for the success of the fair over the years. …They've taken such an active part."

In the beginning

The first James Moxley started the family farming tradition, buying a farm on Frederick Road in West Friendship in 1920. Nearly a century later, the family still owns the 380-acre spread. The farm,  known as Dawn Acres, sits across Frederick Road from the fairgrounds, although the fairgrounds did not open until 1953.

In 1946, James Moxley helped organize the first county fair. A few years later, he helped establish the permanent fairgrounds. His son and namesake upped the ante on that participation. James Jr. was a member of the fair board from 1959-82, and fair president from 1970-72. His wife, Dessie, meanwhile, ran the Home Arts Department, and later wrote a history of the county fair, "50 Years of Memories."

The couple's oldest son carried on the family tradition in spades, showing animals at the fair as a youth and, as an adult, serving as a board member from 1985-2006 and as president from 1994-96.

While no longer a board member, Rob Moxley, 53, a lawyer in the real estate business, works on projects for the fair and is president of the Howard County 4-H Foundation. Though not a fulltime farmer, he and his wife and three children still live on the family farm — as do his parents, his younger brother and the brother's family, and one of his two younger sisters.

This year, James IV,  a junior at Wake Forest University, is too old to participate in 4-H. But he'll be helping his two younger siblings: Ellen, 18, who graduated this year from Glenelg Country School, and Chris, 16, a rising junior at Glenelg. All three have been showing the family livestock — sheep, cattle, pigs — since they were youngsters.

"They enjoy the fair," Rob Moxley said. "It's always one of the highlights of the summer. If they're around (in coming years) I suspect they will be interested in being at the fair."

Indeed, it's possible a Moxley will be involved at the Howard County Fair for some time to come.

"It's something I've grown up with," said James, who, while too old to show animals as a 4-H member, still attends the fair, and exhibits at livestock shows throughout the country.  

A business major at Wake Forest, James said he expects to stay involved in farming as his father has: as a hobby. He also expects to keep attending the county fair.

"Unless I'm away because of my job or something, I plan on being involved with the fair as long as I can," he said.

Chris said he was too young to make such plans, but added: "It's a possibility. … I've been raised up in showing at the fair my whole life. It's a fun time — you meet a lot of good friends, and it's a good experience. … I'll see how it goes."

Ellen, who will attend Villanova University in the fall, is similarly unsure of her long-range plans, but certain she'll be at the next few fairs.

"Absolutely," she said. "I'll help my younger brother out the next couple of years, but even after that, I'll go. 

"So many of my friends went every summer, and we've grown really close over the years. People stick around with the fair."

Some people, and some families, longer than others.

Besides Rob and Mark and their children, their parents — veterans of untold numbers of county fairs — expect to be at the fairgrounds watching their grandchildren participate.

"The fairgrounds used to be the gathering place for agriculture in the county," recalled Dessie Moxley, 75. Times have changed, she said, but some things remain the same, and the fair is one of them.

"Our children grew up showing and spending the whole week at the fair, and now the grandchildren do it," she added. "It just goes on for generations."

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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