Couple travels 4,500 miles for local crafts fair

Would you travel 4,500 miles to attend the Hillsboro Arts & Crafts Fair? Patrick and Gillian Kew of Stamford, England, did just that. They flew across the Atlantic Ocean the first week in September to make sure they’d be in Hillsboro for the fair three weeks later.

“We came to see my aunt,” Patrick said about Hillsboro resident Pauline Winter.

“And we always come in September because we like to be here for the craft fair,” Gillian said. “We make sure we’re here for that.”

This is their third visit to Hillsboro in the past 14 years, and 11 years have lapsed since the second visit. Each visit has coincided with the Arts & Crafts Fair.

Also on the Kews’ list of people to visit while here for a month are Marlin and Sharolyn Funk of Lehigh.

“They came to stay with us in 1996,” Patrick said.

Stamford is located 100 miles north of London. More than five times the population of Hillsboro, the town includes three main streets instead of one.

Many of the buildings are made from old Lincolnshire limestone. And its medieval past has been preserved-making the community a mecca for tourists. Because of its ancient architecture, the locale is often described in promotional brochures as England’s finest stone town.

“Where we live, it’s a bit like Hillsboro-mostly farms,” Patrick said. “And it’s mostly flat like Hillsboro.”

Both in their mid 60s, the couple has been married for 44 years, entering the retirement phase of their lives in March.

Patrick was in the Marines prior to working for about 40 years as a long-distance truck driver. He left that job and retired to part-time work in construction and carpentry.

Gillian is also retired-from the field of nursing after 50 years.

Their three sons and their families live within eight miles of the couple. So it’s not unusual for their four grandsons and two granddaughters to show up on their doorstep for visits every week.

During their first week in Marion County, the couple had an opportunity to tour the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge in Canton.

“We saw some real buffalos,” Patrick said about the herd of resident bison at the preserve.

“We’ve never seen them in the wild like this. It was great. I only wish we could have brought the grandchildren to see them.”

But buffalo herds will be a distant memory on Sept. 20 when the couple is enticed by the tantalizing aromas of fair food and the lure of 368 exhibitors displaying their crafts.

They’ve already decided to show up to begin browsing Main and Grand streets by 8:30 a.m., 30 minutes before the fair officially opens.

Asked what she likes best about the fair, Gillian said, “It’s how talented the people are, because I like everything handmade. We buy gifts to take home.”

Patrick agreed and said, “We only wish we could have a bigger suitcase to take everything back, because whatever you see is wonderful.”

The Kansas quilts this year are a must see for Gillian, she said. But they both agreed to be open for “whatever takes our fancy and we can fit in the case,” Patrick said.

Funnel cakes and corn dogs are not available in their part of the world-so those delicacies will be on the couple’s fair menu Saturday.

“But we like to try everything,” Patrick said with a grin.

And when family and friends visit them in England, Gillian said the table might be spread with such items as steak-and kidney-pie or toad-in-the-hole.

“Those are sausages in Yorkshire pudding with gravy on top,” Gillian said. “They really enjoy that one.”

Because Hillsboro has opened its arms to the couple, they agreed to give a verbal tour of an event that attracts crowds to their neck of the woods in the Midlands of England.

“We have a craft fair at Burghley House once a year,” Gillian said about the three-day event in May.

But the fair isn’t the same as the Hillsboro fair.

“They’re very different,” Gillian said. “There’s a lot of oil paintings and a lot of food produce. Then there’s the pretty things.”

The Rainbow Craft Fair is held in the park of Burghley House, which is a grand English-estate home completed in 1587 on 10,000 acres and only located 11/2 miles from Stamford.

The former lord of the house, Lord Exeter, was Queen Elizabeth’s uncle, Patrick said. And his daughter, Lady Victoria Leatham, currently lives in the house open to tourists.

“My grandfather, who was Pauline’s father, was an estate plumber for the house,” Patrick said.

“They get several thousand people (at the Burghley fair) but not like Hillsboro,” Patrick said of more than 50,000 people anticipated this year in Hillsboro.

The thought of that large throng of people didn’t seem to phase the couple.

“That’s part of it,” Patrick said.

They are not strangers to over-crowded conditions.

“The traffic in England is very, very busy because Stamford is very historical, and the roads are very narrow,” Patrick said.

The city has the luxury of a north-south bypass road, but east-west traffic constantly snakes through a narrow city street.

“Many times in my truck I would go out, and I could be in one traffic jam for eight hours without moving,” Patrick said.

Comparing their homeland with Hillsboro, the couple said they would be happy to take the local gasoline prices back with them.

“Our fuel is expensive,” Patrick said. “I think it works out the equivalent to about $6 a gallon.”

And the triple-digit temperatures that baked county residents in August would be welcomed back home in England if they could figure out a way to pack that in their suitcase, they said.

“This year, we reached 100 degrees, and that’s the first time in many years,” Patrick said. “Usually, it’s between 70 and 85,” which is the reason most homes don’t have air conditioning.

And last year, “we never had a summer,” Gillian said. “We had two or three fine days.”

But by far among all the comparisons between Stamford and Hillsboro, the couple said they were impressed with the warmth of the people they encountered in the Kansas community of 3,000 people.

“We’ve never met such friendly people in all our lives as what they are here in Hillsboro,” Gillian said.

“Nobody talks to you at home unless you really know them.”

To illustrate their point, Patrick talked about a recent walk the couple took to a local retail store.

“We were walking down to the Alco store this morning,” he said. “And the police drove by and waved and said, ‘Hi.’ Well, that’s nice. It makes you feel welcome.”

In addition to visiting the fair, the couple said their plans include a trip to Wichita. And the last week of their visit, they’ve scheduled a trip to Branson, Mo.

But during the remaining time, they said they plan to enjoy the solitude and quiet of Hillsboro.

“We’ve come for a rest, because where we are, it’s a hectic life,” Patrick said.

“This is quiet, this is peaceful, very peaceful,” except for one Saturday during their visit-when they look forward to mingling with a plethora of others, who flock to the community to soak up local crafts and food.

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