By Maraley McMichael
Senior Voice Correspondent 

A full day of people, stories at the Alaska State Fair


August 1, 2021 | View PDF

Courtesy Maraley McMichael

Maraley McMichael working in the flower department at the 2014 Alaska State Fair.

Since 2014, I've enjoyed working each Wednesday and Thursday morning in the Flower Department in the Barn at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer. Wednesdays I fill the "vase" bottles with water and help exhibitors with their entries and Thursdays I'm one of the judges' helpers. For this volunteer work, I receive a free ticket for myself and one extra for each of those four days, as well as parking passes.

But, after working my volunteer shift I'm usually too tired to take in many fair activities. Once I drive home for my usual afternoon bed rest, I never manage to return, even though I get my hand stamped and the parking pass is still good. This same scenario took place in 2016.

But, determined to enjoy a day of fun and not just work, I made plans for Sept. 5, that year's last day of the fair. I invited my husband, Gary, to join me, but he declined, which was fine. I much prefer going by myself rather than attending with a group of women friends, a group of family, or even a husband.

After paying for parking, I offered and gave his entry ticket to the lady who parked next to me, with three kids in tow. Stuffing my raincoat in my backpack, I set out foot loose and fancy free.

My first stop was at the Valley Quilters cabin to rest a minute and visit with the two ladies hosting the booth, where I soon was involved in a conversation about material "stashes". One of the ladies commented that during her working years, she periodically bought materials that she liked. Now, upon retiring, she had been making a dent in her stash. Since her stash was very important to her and her daughter didn't care much about quilting, this woman had formally written in her will, that after she dies, two ladies from the Valley Quilters Guild would come to her house and deal with her stash. Her daughter was not to donate it to a thrift store. I thought this was rather extreme planning, but certainly understood the concept. With quilting on my mind, I walked directly across the way to the Irwin building and attended the quilt show, which I'd already sat through on one of my volunteer days. Beginning at the top of each hour, a quilt expert spoke about a select group of displayed quilts.

Continuing on down that avenue, I wandered into the antiques booth. I've frequented this particular concession since 1986, but don't think I've ever bought anything. When I first walked in, there were no other customers and the owner asked if I was looking for something in particular. I told her I didn't need anything because I'd recently inherited many antiques from my parents' estate, which started a conversation.

We talked about how big a job it is to sort through an estate and how some family members are more interested than others. Our conversation was interrupted several times so she could answer customer questions. I didn't want to take away time from her customers and was ready to move on, but she kept asking me questions. One customer bought a silver vase brooch for wearing real flowers. It reminded me of my glass vase brooch at home, which I later dug out and wore full of sweet peas about four times during that fall, always receiving compliments.

Next I noticed the Tundra booth and stopped to purchase Chad Carpenter's newest comic book for my grandson for Christmas. While talking to Zack (Chad's right hand man and who I knew as a little kid) I brought up the Tundra board game, which I'd recently purchased at the Colony House Museum. Since the box stated "for ages 13 and up," I asked if the contents of the game were more gruesome than the typical "roadkill" scenes from the comics. I was happily surprised to learn it contained nothing different from the usual depictions, but that it cost so much more to license for younger children, they decided to just go with the higher age rating. Good to know. Now I could give it to my grandson for his next birthday instead of waiting until he turned 13.

Then I went to the Colony Barn where I ran into Gayle Rowland (who has since passed away), who was working a volunteer shift for the Palmer Historical Society. I knew her as a friend and grandmother to one of my daughter's childhood friends, but she was also a fellow docent at the Colony House Museum where I volunteer one day a week during the summers. Gayle was three years old when her parents moved to Palmer in 1935 as part of the Colony Project.

It had been raining on and off all day and I walked into the Colony Barn with my rain coat dripping. I already knew Gayle's mother's wedding dress was on display from an earlier visit and planned to take a photo of it, but Gayle standing next to it was even better. She told me how her mother had an outdoor wedding in 1927, so I told her that I also had an outdoor wedding on May 26, 1973, but that the trees had only begun to leaf out that spring, so the vegetation background in my wedding photos is rather drab looking.

When Gayle said, "The 26th is the day Bob is getting married," I asked, "Bob who?" When she responded with the last name of a mutual friend, I was shocked. I said I needed to sit down before she told me the details of the amazing love story (which first began in the early 1960s) and would soon result in a wedding for Bob at age 80.

When I was ready to move on, Gayle mentioned that it was such a cold day, she wished she had a hot drink, so I went to the nearest coffee booth and got the largest cup of hot water they offered and a tea bag. She was so surprised and appreciative when I returned to the Colony Barn and handed it to her.

On my walk back toward my parked car, since I was on my own and had no time schedule, I stopped and watched the quite fascinating back-hoe rodeo exhibition. At some point, I sought out one of the newer food booths, which serves the DenBleyker family's delicious Rueben sandwiches. The lady who took my order was another of my daughter's childhood friends, so we briefly exchanged greetings.

Courtesy Maraley McMichael

Gayle Rowland and Maraley McMichael at the 2016 Alaska State Fair.

Because of timing and locations, I had to do some back tracking to take in my interests, so by the time I got home, I was plenty tired and it was way past my usual afternoon rest time. But, what an absolutely wonderful day at the 2016 Fair. The unexpected personal conversations were the highlights of my day.

That's the unique thing about the Alaska State Fair. Someone else might find my day rather boring. But with so many different activities, music events, competitions, educational opportunities, farm and garden displays, and of course the carnival rides, food and merchandise booths, there is something for everyone.

Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan currently residing in Palmer. Email her at

Author Bio

Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan now residing in Palmer.

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