Town celebrating 50-years of the Hillsboro Arts and Crafts

This weekend is one that all Hillsboro residents either looks forward to with anticipation or dreads as the very small town of 2,834 people (according to the most recent US census) grows to over 30,000 people for one day. It is the Annual Hillsboro Arts and Crafts Fair. And this year marks the 50th anniversary of the yearly event.

It all started when a carload of Hillsboro residents drove to War Eagle, Ark., in 1967 to visit an arts and crafts fair.

“We’d seen a small notice in the Wichita Eagle and Beacon about the fair, so we decided to see what it was all about,” Marguerite Pankratz Goertz, one of those adventurers, would write later in a local cookbook.

“When we came back to Hillsboro, I thought of all the people in our community who quilted and did other kinds of crafts. I talked to some of my friends and they encouraged me to call a meeting. So about eight of us met in my home and decided to host an arts and crafts fair.”

And now, here we are 50 years later. The small fair has now grown into one of the biggest and best shows in all of Kansas.

And even those of its biggest critics have to admit the event is huge for commerce in the town. Not only does Hillsboro profit from sales tax, but many of the small businesses around made good money off of all of the customers that the fair brings to town.

“This is an amazing event that helps people recognize Hillsboro all over Kansas,” said Hillsboro City Administrator Larry Paine.

But many residents love the fair and look forward to it every year.

As Malinda Just, Arts and Crafts Fair board member for five years and avid attender for many more (see her column on page five for more info) pointed out, “Each year brings a combination of new and seasoned vendors, all rolled into a localized shopping experience. Chances are good, there’s something for everyone.”

The fair does seem to have something for everyone both with the crafts and food. Which makes sense considering how many different vendors are involved.

“We are right at about 240 vendors. I would say about 20-25 percent are new vendors. We have quite a few returning vendors and some of them have asked for bigger booth space,” said Fair Director Caitlin Hall. “The vendors come from all over. We have quite a few from Kansas, but we also have them from all of our surrounding states as well as a few Northern states. It’s amazing for a place the size of Hillsboro.”

Hall is enjoying her first year as the director although it has been a transition going from an attender to the director.

“It’s a very different experience just for all the things that go on behind the scenes just from finding volunteers to organizing trash pick-up and all these other things you never think about,” said Hall.

In addition to the regular planning, Hall and Hillsboro Arts and Craft Fair Board President Coleen Koop appeared on a local news station last week to promote the event. They are hoping that this will draw even more awareness to the event and allow for a bigger turnout than normal.

Hall and the board have worked hard to make the event a huge success. They seem to have fun doing it as well.

“I enjoy serving on the board with a group of ladies I perhaps wouldn’t see otherwise. We share some good laughs, but also work well together as we bring various insights to the table. I’ve also found serving on the board to be a great way to plug into the Hillsboro community, working toward making something that’s bigger than any one person, a success,” said Just.

“We hope that everyone will come out and support us. I truly appreciate all the support that the community has shown us. I hope we have another great year as we celebrate our 50th,” said Hall.

Many are proud of the fair and will show up on Saturday to offer support. One of the biggest supporters is Hillsboro Mayor Lou Thurston.

“50 Years is a significant accomplishment. If you figured only an average of 30,000 people per year that adds up to 1.5 million folks visiting Hillsboro over that time. I am very proud of all the folks who have worked tirelessly over the years to pull this off. Congratulations on 50 years of excellence!” said Thurston.


A LOOK BACK THROUGH THE 50 YEARS…

1969

Marguerite Pankratz Goertz and Carol Breese are two of the women who started the Hillsboro Arts and Crafts Fair 50 years ago. Provided photoOn April 10, 1969, Marguerite Pankratz invited seven young Hillsboro women to meet at her home for coffee. She wanted to talk about her experience at the War Eagle Arts & Crafts Fair in Arkansas and the shows she had attended in California. She enthusiastically “planted the seed” for Hillsboro to develop a fair of its own. At a second meeting, held May 1 at the Tabor College cafeteria, the group decided to hold the first fair on Saturday, Sept. 17, along the sidewalks of the downtown business district. Marguerite was chosen as the fair coordinator.

Entry was free, and Baker Bros. Printing donated the publicity brochures. In case of bad weather the fair would be moved inside the Kansas Wholesale Warehouse, the city building and other available business places. Local artists Emma Flaming, Marlys Penner and Ethel Abrahams exhibited their work and enlisted others to be in the fair. Fifty exhibitors participated.

The committee set up an information booth to help exhibitors find their assigned spaces on Main Street sidewalks and to distribute sales tax charts. A coffee house was established on Main in the J.F. Klassen building (now Prudent Travel); six organizations sold baked goods and members of the Arts & Crafts committee sold coffee. Profit from the coffee was the only revenue that year; the women had to pay postage and other minor expenses. Exhibitors’ sales totaled $1,360.

Carol Breese, Carol Wiebe and Kay Rundstrom of the Publicity Committee promoted the fair on “The Joyce Livingston Show” broadcast by KTVH (now KWCH), the CBS affiliate in Wichita.

Following the successful event, Marguerite Pankratz expressed hope that a permanent organization would emerge. A month later, on Oct. 14, interested people met at the city building to form a permanent organization.

1970

Through the year the new association organized a variety of cultural events, including several community-wide art shows and events. The highlight of the year, of course, was the second annual Arts & Crafts Fair. To promote the event, scheduled for Sept. 19, Carol Breese appeared on “The Joyce Livingston Show.” More than 100 exhibitors participated and sales topped $2,000. The fair ran from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. along the sidewalks of Main Street and on East and West Grand. The crowd was estimated at 4,000 to 5,000. In addition to the exhibitors, special entertainment was provided.

1975

The seventh annual Arts & Crafts Fair was Sept. 20 with 240 exhibitors recording sales of $11,597 and the food sales totaling $1,316. Exhibitors were not charged an entry fee. A puppet show and folk singer provided entertainment. The bake shop was moved to Kaffee Haus in the city building. First Mennonite Church women prepared a Dutch noon meal (verenike, sausage, New Year’s cookies, rye bread and cherry moos) in the church. Marcella Bruce, Deena Hawkins and Betty Lubbert appeared on “The Joyce Livingston Show” to promote the fair. A KAKE (Channel 10 in Wichita) television crew reported on the event. Exhibitors’ booths were set up for two blocks down the center of Main Street. A half block of Grand Avenue, to the east and west off of Main, was also roped off.

1980

The 12th annual Arts & Crafts Fair was Sept. 20, with 207 exhibitors entering with a $5 fee. Sales, excluding food sales, exceeded $23,000. It was a “rotten day with wind,” according to Deena Hawkins, fair director.

Features included cartoon movies for kids, guitarist Bennie Holtsclaw, spinning by Marilyn Jones from Peabody, and baargello and needlepoint by Emma Jean Volland. Exhibitors showed their wares on Main Street sidewalks and also down the center of the streets. The Senior Center featured a noodle-soup-and-pie luncheon and the Kaffee Haus was once again an outstanding success.

1985

When Sept. 21 dawned for the 17th annual Arts & Crafts Fair, 340 of the 400 preregistered exhibitors were setting up. A two-hour sprinkle during the early morning created some problems, but sales soared in spite of the weather.

Sausage crafters of Hillsboro sold more than 400 pounds of smoked sausage. Total exhibitor sales totaled $123,617 and food sales exceeded $16,000. The entry fee for exhibitors was $15. Trolley trailers from Parkside Homes were used to transport fairgoers from the county fairgrounds to the downtown. Orlando Schultz planned traffic and parking control, with more than 35 people helping him. Crowds were estimated between 15,000 and 20,000.

1990

The 22nd fair, held Sept. 15 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., featured 412 exhibitors from 16 states, and attracted 35,000 to 40,000 visitors. The exhibitors’ entry fee was $20. Sausage crafters featured a German band. Tabor College students were on hand to help exhibitors unload.

Exhibitors sales exceeded $462,000. The Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce food booth raised more than $7,000. Trolleys from Salem Home and Parkside Homes were used to transport fairgoers.

1995

The 27th Arts & Crafts Fair was Sept. 16 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The sunflower promotional brochure was designed by Nancy Miller of Hillsboro. Four-hundred exhibitors from 16 states sold $776,069 in goods, while food-concessions sales totaled $74,775. The entry fee was $60. One exhibitor sold 1,200 weather vanes at $21.50 each.

2000

The fair was Sept. 16 with 378 exhibitors reporting sales of more than $705,447. Food concessions reported sales of $74,686. Marsha Setzkorn-Meyer served coffee at the fairgrounds at 4 a.m. for exhibitors waiting for their packets. Sunshine Artist magazine listed the fair among the top 100 in the country.

2005

The Hillsboro Arts & Crafts Fair was Sept. 17. A total of 368 exhibitors were accepted for placement. Booth fees were $75 for a 10×10 space. The exhibitors represented 15 states, and 53 vendors were new. The 4-H club was in charge of evening cleanup and did a great job. The association purchased 20 trash polycarts as well as new radios for use at the fair.

2010

“The streets were busy in the morning,” said Marcella Mohn, a member of the planning committee. “It kind of thinned out in the afternoon, but I think that had something to do with the heat. Or maybe they saw all they wanted to see.”

Temperatures rising into the mid-90s during the afternoon did cause some medical issues.

“It was a little warmer than we’d like to see it,” Police Chief Dan Kinning said. “EMS was very busy. We were good in the morning but it seemed like after lunch, when the sun came out and it warmed up, we had a lot of people with injuries from falls. Most of them were vendors.”

Kinning said his team fielded no calls related to criminal activity.

“We were busy with our normal traffic control, parking and vehicle lockouts and those kinds of things,” he said. “We didn’t take any criminal reports at all.”

2015

Near-perfect conditions made the 46th Hillsboro Arts & Crafts Fair one of the smoothest events in recent memory, according to organizers. Visitor participation was estimated by law enforcement to be 45,000 to 50,000, and was steady throughout the day, according to Penni Schroeder, fair director.

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