Vendors share why Country Fair is so special

GALENA–Kent Henderson remembers a time when he said he’d never participate in Galena Country Fair. A recent college graduate and potter, Henderson was too proud to have a booth at the fair in the early 1980s.


That pride went out the window, though, when from his studio on Spring Street, Henderson watched all the vehicles carrying fair-goers and potential customers stream past his business. He remembers thinking, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been an idiot.”


The next year–probably 1987–Henderson signed up for a booth and has been at the fair every year since, in the same space not far from the pedestrian bridge.


“It’s just always been really good,” said Henderson. “You see the same customers come back year after year.”

Artist, Kent Henderson

There was one year, in particular, that was memorable when Henderson’s mother and father-in-law rode the train from Chicago and surprised Henderson and his wife, Sue.


When it came time for the return trip to the city, the porter told some of the passengers to wait and that the train would move forward to make their entrance simpler. The train kept on going, though, leaving several passengers, including Henderson’s in-laws, behind. Henderson said he would have loved to have seen Sue running after the train yelling, “Wait, you forgot my parents.” The situation resolved itself the following day when the train returned for the second day of the fair.


A few years ago, when Sue had back surgery and wasn’t able to assist Henderson at his booth, their son, Josh, came out from Chicago to lend a hand. During that trip Josh realized what a homecoming event Country Fair is for many of his friends. Josh thoroughly enjoyed it and has been back with his daughter to meet up with former classmates.


“It’s a good time to catch up with friends,” said Henderson.


Downtown Galena business owner Pete Kieffer missed out on the first few years of Country Fair but has now been participating for around 30 years as a vendor.


Kieffer and his wife, Janet, traveled to craft shows all over to display their goods for over 40 years.


“Galena was always my favorite one,” said Kieffer, noting the music and overall atmosphere really make Country Fair stand out.


When he retired 25 years ago from John Deere, he started marking out all 155 of the 10-by-12-foot booth spaces in the park, usually three or four days before the fair kicks off. He’s been doing it so long now that it’s pretty simple for him. While the first year he did it took two days, he can now go from start to finish in about four hours. His son, Mike, helps now, too.


Artist, Pete Kieffer

“I can zip through it pretty fast,” said Kieffer, said Kieffer, who enjoys giving his time to the cause. “I like doing it.”


Business is great at the park, Kieffer said, but it’s the people he really appreciates. He loves meeting people who share his love of Galena and there are plenty of them during Country Fair weekend.


Kieffer also appreciates that the proceeds from the event stay in Jo Daviess County and help so many worthy causes.


“It helps so many people,” noted Kieffer.


Trish Italia, who owns Rustic River on Main Street in Galena, had a space in the early 2000s at Country Fair to sell her handmade jewelry. When she opened Galena Beads, now Rustic River, in 2004, the store took over the booth.


Italia knew what she was getting into as she’d participated in similar shows for a decade and had attended Country Fair for years. Country Fair, she said, stands out because it’s juried and the works shown and sold are very good.


Once the booth is set up and ready to go, thanks to plenty of help from her sons-in-law, Italia has time to take in the beautiful setting and all the customers who stream through during the weekend.


“It’s a fun show,” she said.


Judy Hodgin, Apple River, sets up her booth just above the railroad tracks, not far from the gazebo and displays her baskets and repurposed vintage items. She appreciates that the fair is well-organized and supports the entire county through the grant program.


“It’s been very consistent,” said Hodgin of the fair and her success selling during the two-day event. “Not matter what the weather, the people come.”


And there’s been crazy weather: hot, cold, rain, heavy snow. The Hodgins come prepared, tie down their tent, hang extra plastic if necessary and even pull out the hand and feet warmers on occasion.


“The weather doesn’t stop us,” she said.


Hodgin knows craft fairs as she has participated in many through the years and still does a few each fall with the help of her husband, Ray. She knows that when it’s time to retire, Country Fair will be the last on her list. She enjoys it very much and is thankful for all the loyal and interesting customers she’s had during her involvement.

by Hillary Dickerson

Courtesy of the Galena Gazette

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