Bill Langlotz's first and favorite job in his 50 years working at the Maryland State Fair was to the make the Maryland Farm Queen and her court look beautiful by framing them with colored tissues.
"I started doing the Farm Queen float in 1961," said Langlotz, 71, explaining the fair hosted a parade of 4-H groups led by the Farm Queen float. "We'd make the float background by stuffing different colored Kleenex into chicken wire, then I'd pull the float around the racetrack with a tractor."
A snapshot on his dining room table in Monkton shows one float with young women perched on chairs wearing long dresses and holding parasols. Another features Langlotz's blond, pig-tailed daughter, Laura, as a young girl seated in front of a tissue black-eyed Susan.
The parade attracted floats from 4-H clubs all over the state, he said. But the parades ended in the early 1980s as 4-H clubs' interest in building the floats dwindled.
Since then, Langlotz has worked various jobs over the years, such as cooking barbecue chicken at a booth to benefit 4-Hers and cataloging flowers to be judged.
He also worked at the Farm and Garden building for several years and then in 2001 was put in charge of it, where he has been ever since. The Farm and Garden building is where fairgoers find entries to be judged of hay, fruits, vegetables, flowers, honey, wine, meat and eggs.
Three years ago, Langlotz started the Baltimore County Farmers' Market at the fairgrounds. He said the idea came after fair visitors asked if they could buy the vegetable and fruit entries in the Farm and Garden building.
But for the fair, which this year runs Aug. 24 to Sept. 3, it's up to Langlotz to find qualified judges for each category and come up with demonstrators to entertain the crowds. This year, visitors will see a vegetable carver and a pumpkin carver and can learn ways to cook with honey.
A winning tipster
Last year, people submitted 2,600 entries for display in the Farm and Garden building.
"Before computers, people would get a premium booklet and fill out entry forms by hand," he said. "Now, they do it online and it's a lot easier."
Since not everyone has access to a computer, he allows people to register in person.
"It takes a lot longer, but I can't see turning somebody away just because they don't have a computer," he said.
He also tries to help first-timers.
Marianne Wittelsberger, of Lutherville, couldn't figure out why the herbs she entered several years ago only earned fifth place.
"Bill told me I didn't identify what my entry was. I didn't know I had to. The next year, I followed all the rules and took first place," she said. "He gave me tips on cutting the stems on my peppers to a consistent length and taking the greens off the top of my cherry tomatoes or else they'd dry up and look bad. He's an unsung hero at the fair who is always generous with his time."
Wesley Brown, who farms 450 acres in Easton, met Langlotz 20 years ago and shares Wittelsberger's sentiments.
"You couldn't ask for anybody more helpful than Mr. Bill," he said. "He introduces me to other farmers, and I appreciate any comments he has about my entries. He's the main reason we continue to come up for the fair."
Langlotz visits other fairs to see what's new. He saw vegetables displayed in baskets in Pennsylvania a few years ago and thought it looked nicer than the paper plates used at Maryland's fair. So, Langlotz bought 2,500 baskets and colored ribbon to tie on the baskets for each category — green for vegetables, yellow for honey and red for fruit.
This year will feature a new category after he got the idea at a fair convention. People are asked to fill a wheelbarrow with vegetables, herbs or flowers and wheel the whole thing in for judging. Next year, he plans to start a category for home-brewed beer.
Langlotz and his crew are already setting up 132 tables and decorating them with maroon pleated-cloth skirts, unloading boxes of ribbons and rosettes, and organizing a "rot patrol" that will check entries each day after they've been judged to remove any food that is past its prime.
"When Bill takes something on, he gives it 110 percent," said Max Mosner, state fair general manager since 1972. "He is very, very organized and he loves what he's doing."
Langlotz grew up in Glen Arm and helped with his family's vegetable garden. He tried Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, but said it was the 4-H Club that grabbed his attention.
"That was the big thing back then. Everybody was in 4-H," he said.
He joined the Glen Arm Boys 4-H Club, where his interests were vegetables and tractors. As a youngster, he entered his vegetables at the state fair many times, but didn't win many ribbons, he said.
He met his future wife, Ruth Ann Liebno, at a 4-H Club meeting in Rockdale in1966.
A year later, the Baltimore County 4-H Fair incorporated and he became its first president.
He and Ruth Ann married in 1969 and moved to Monkton, where their daughter, Laura, was born in 1976. The family raised sheep and Laura showed sheep at county and state fairs.
Today, Laura and her husband, Hans Kefauver, have a flock of 27 sheep in Hagerstown where they live, although they do not show them.
Ruth Ann Langlotz loves to bake and sew and has frequently entered the state fair competition. Last year, her jellyroll cake, pound cake and German bundt cake all earned blue ribbons.
She, too, works at the fair. This will be her fourth year accepting entries at the Home Arts building.
When Bill Langlotz retired from AAI in Cockeysville in 2000 after 40 years, he found more time to devote to both 4-H activities and the state fair.
His dedication was recognized in 2008 when the Maryland Association of Agricultural Fairs and Shows named him "Fair Person of the Year." He is now that group's vice president and will become president in November.
Although Langlotz gets paid for his fair work, he manages the farmers market for free.
"I want to be at the fair as long as I'm able to," he said. "I can't even imagine my life without the 4-H Fair and the state fair."