Northrups continue 60-year tradition of attending State Fair

Story and Photo courtesy of Diane Carter/Plainsman

HURON — When Duane and Janice Northrup exchanged vows April 7, 1958, she wasn’t quite prepared for the surprises their future together would bring. 

After serving in the U.S. Army for two years, and newly married, Duane returned to raise and sell registered Hampshire hogs on their farm north of Mitchell. He had grown-up in 4-H and showing his hogs at the State Fair had always been a highlight for him. Now, he was looking forward to doing it again — something he hoped his new bride would embrace. 

When Duane began gently, but persistently, asking his new wife to make sure to mark that week off from work, he was met with a bit of resistance. Janice, who was employed with J.F. Anderson Lumber Company at the time, was not quite as enthusiastic about “wasting” her vacation time at the fair. For her the fair had always been a one day deal. “It was my mother who pulled me aside and reminded me that marriage was about Give and Take,” Janice said. “So, under much protest, I requested the time off, and now 60 years later, I can say it was the best decision I could have made!”

In the early years, the couple would rent a camper from a friend, and then later from Jack’s Campers in Mitchell. Because there were no assigned spaces, they would come early and camp either across from the open class barns or down in the cattle and hog areas. 

“Back then, everyone would just pull under a big tree and park however they wanted, no one had ever heard of  fire lanes,” she laughed. “And if I remember right, there weren’t many campers or bathrooms, and even fewer showers.”

As their family grew, fair time turned into the long-awaited family vacation. All three of their daughters, naturally, became involved in 4-H. The older two showed cattle at the Fair, while the youngest worked  her Hampshire hogs, winning Grand Champion at one time. 

“We always had a trailer full of their friends who were either showing or judging,” Janice stated, “The older girls were responsible for cooking the evening meals for the younger kids, so Duane and I could go out to eat  — it seemed like spaghetti was always on their menu.” All three girls still reminisce how much they enjoyed showing livestock.

Over the last 60 years, the family has seen many improvements made to the State Fairgrounds. Additional bathrooms, showers, new buildings and paved roads have been built. Now there is assigned camping, water hook-ups, fire lanes and golf cart rentals. There’s a playground, free entertainment for all ages, more food stands, ice delivery, and a free newspaper to boot. 

“The one improvement still needed is a way to expand the camping areas. I’ve heard over 300 people are on the waiting list to camp at the State Fair,” she said. “That should tell you something about how much fun it truly is.”

But in spite of all of the great additions to the Fair, the most difficult change for Janice was her loss of Duane in 2010. Going without him to the State Fair was the last thing she wanted to do, but her kids parked the camper anyway and encouraged her to go. 

That first year was hard, but Janice was supported with much love from all the people and families they had camped with over the years. Since then, her son-in-law brings the camper up every year for her, and all three daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren come and share with her their love of the fair.

It probably goes without saying, that Janice, who served as the Sanborn County Register of Deeds from 1987 to 2002, is quite the people person — and watcher. She absolutely loves her camping spot, which is located on a very busy intersection behind the new Earl Nordby 4-H building, where you’ll always find a chair to pull up and visit for a while. 

At 82, she goes through her State Fair program, highlights in yellow what she wants to see for the day, and takes off walking – no golf cart for her.

“It’s been 60 years, and to think I almost missed out on the experience of camping at the South Dakota State Fair,” she said. “I used to thank my mother every year at fair time for making me go. And I still think the State Fair is the best “family” vacation there is!”

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