At Elmira Seibert's house, reminders of the annual Howard County Fair are everywhere. Rooms are decorated with entries from five decades of fairs, including stuffed animals, quilts and paintings. Cabinets are filled with patterns and recipes she might use in the future. A dozen family members are always scurrying about, working on possible submissions.
Seibert is believed to be the only person to have participated in -- and won a blue ribbon at -- each of the county's 53 fairs.
At the 54th fair, which begins Saturday, she might set a record -- having the most family members participate in the weeklong event. If all goes according to plan, 12 children and grandchildren will bring home a blue ribbon.
The weeklong fair takes place at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship. Categories range from judging animals to baking to sewing to artwork. The fair also includes rides and an assembly of sales booths.
Mrs. Seibert, 76, has picked which quilt she will submit. Her two daughters -- Betsy Ford, 49, and Kathy Nettles, 33 -- have narrowed the list of cookie and pie recipes. (Kathy is also considering entering some of her beets and tomatoes). Mrs. Seibert's son, Willis, 54, and his son Casey, 26, have mastered their sales pitch for the family business, a television store. Betsy's daughter, Kara, 17, is deciding which paintings will best showcase her talents.
Mrs. Seibert will help Kathy's children, Travis, 10, Kristen, 8, and Taylor, 5, with their cookie submissions. Willis' other children, Margo, 15, Alyssa, 11, and Meghan, 8, are deciding which artwork, handwork and vegetables they will enter. Willis will enter the family's youngest participant, his son Brendan, 7 months, in the baby contest -- an award Willis received the first year of the fair.
Willis' award was just the beginning of blue ribbons his mother would bring home, the first of hundreds of categories in which she would participate. And while family members acknowledge they like seeing their neighbors and trying new crafts, they're ultimately after one thing.
The blue ribbon.
Combined with her second- , third- and fourth-place ribbons, Seibert has more than 550 ribbons, all sitting in a box in her closet. She would display them, but she ran out of room. She's making plans to put them in a scrapbook.
"It would be more of a story when Elmira doesn't participate," said Kim Sullivan, a Howard County Fair Association historian. "It's something we've come to expect."
Fair organizers said the Seiberts are among a handful of three-generation families participating this year. She has beat her neighbors, friends and even her children. It's nothing personal, she said. She likes good-spirited competition, particularly when she can win.
"One year, I made the mistake of competing [in the] rolls" category, Seibert said. "You can't beat her on rolls," she said, pointing to her daughter Betsy, who lives next door.
Pie competitions also are out.
"Oh, [Kathy] makes the best pie crust," Seibert said. "I stopped entering once she started."
"Didn't [Kathy] beat you last year in pies?" Kara asked her mother, Betsy Ford.
Reluctantly, Ford nodded her head in agreement.
Quilts are one category Seibert knows she can win. This year, she will enter a quilt that has blocks her grandmother made two years before she died in 1933. It's navy blue with 25 white blocks and embroidery on each block, designed for a full-sized bed.
"I am what you would call a quilt-aholic," Seibert said.
She spends up to eight hours a day in an addition on her Glenelg home, built specifically for her to work on her quilts. It's a sun room, lined with cabinets storing patterns. On the shelves are previous blue-ribbon winners -- mostly her award-winning quilts.
At the last minute, Kathy coaxed her mom into also entering the bread category, intentionally making them competitors.
Seibert's participation in the fair began like that of many other county residents. A lifelong Howard County resident, she was a 4-H member, winning ribbons at state fairs and 4-H contests. She started out entering pies, cookies and cakes and sewing samples. By 1942, she was a 4-H leader, starting the Glenelg chapter. She retired in 1987. Throughout much of that time, her husband also submitted vegetables, until his death last year.
All of her children were 4-H members, as are many of her grandchildren, leading to the family's ongoing participation.
She almost broke her fair streak in 1965 when Kathy was born one day after the weeklong fair began. But she managed to get some cooking samples in.
"It just really messed up that fair week," Seibert said.
She has passed on her secrets to her daughters, although they have a trick of their own -- taking recipes off appliances and ingredient containers.
Her daughter Betsy is particularly fond of Betty Crocker recipes. She is starting a streak of her own, entering -- and winning -- the spritz cookie contest, using a recipe off the cookie-cutter gun her mother gave her 41 years ago.
Kara Ford, Betsy's daughter, has been on a different path, opting to submit artwork. As a 4-H member, she raised rabbits for the fair, caring for 26 at one point.
Fair officials say family participation is part of what the fair is about -- keeping traditions alive.
"Those families are so valuable when it comes to running the fair because they can tell us how it's done," said Grant Hill, a fair spokesman.
And for all the preparation that comes before the fair, no one knows who is doing what until the day of the contest.
"I have gotten up at 3 in the morning before," Betsy Ford said. "Some things can only be done that day."
Howard County Fair Highlights
Saturday: 4-H Indoor and Home Economics Entering and Judging 4-H Horse and Pony Show
Sunday: 4-H Canine Show Pie Eating Contest Grand Opening Parade and 16th Annual West Friendship Volunteer Fire Parade 4-H Swine Showmanship Contest
Monday: 4-H and Open Beef Cattle Show
Tuesday: Arabian Horse Show Rabbit Showmanship
Wednesday: 4-H Horsemanship Contest 4-H Lamb, Steer, Swine Poultry, Rabbit and Goat Sale
Thursday: Amateur Variety Talent Show
Saturday: Baby Contest and Miniature Parade