Some people like the Effingham County Fair so much that they live there.
The number of "Fair Families" who spend the week on the fairgrounds in campers or tents continues to grow.
Most of the families that camp are 4-H families, who stay for mere convenience. But some are people who genuinely enjoy the social aspects that go with camping at the fair. Others say it's become a family tradition to spend their vacation at the fair.
The campground is a small grassy area just south of the 4-H barns. People flock to the area days before the fair even begins to claim their camping spot.
When Bob and Jan Westendorf’s children became active in 4-H, the couple knew that camping at the fair would become a time-saver and a convenience.
Although three of the kids – Chris, Valerie, and Abby – have now “graduated” from 4-H, the couple’s youngest daughter, Gina, still participates.
When the family first started camping at the fair, they borrowed a camper. Now, 14 years and two campers later, the family is still carrying on the tradition.
“You live for the fair the entire summer and the perk of camping is actually never having to leave the fairgrounds,” Abby Westendorf said.
“It's the convenience of having a place to go," added Jan Westendorf. "When it’s so hot, you have a place with AC."
It would have been almost impossible for the Westendorfs to be so active in the fair if they didn't camp there – a home away from home for the duration. The family lives almost 45 minutes away from the fairgrounds, so it's a convenience not to worry about driving back and forth numerous times a day after fair shows or events.
“The kids have livestock and it’s just nice to be close to the barns,” Jan Westendorf said.
Bob and Jan Westendorf are also active in 4-H. Serving as superintendents for show days and volunteers throughout other various shows, the family would be driving back and forth constantly.
But there's more to it than convenience.
“Sunday night was always about community, where local families throughout the entire campground come together for a cookout,” said Val Westendorf.
“Eventually, the cookout became so large, the whole campground was basically there,” Bob Westendorf said.
Although the family has been coming for years, every year brings new excitement and stories for the family.
The Westendorf family always has an open camper door for any 4-H kids that need a place to stay.
“It's crazy. I've walked into our camper before and there's like seven kids sleeping on the floor or on the couch. You may not even know who they are,” Val Westendorf said.
The family packs the camper full of everything they need while staying at the fair. If after a show, someone needs to change clothes or take a shower, they can. The camper also provides a place to cook and eat.
“I simply couldn't afford to feed my family if we only ate fair food,” Bob Westendorf said.
When the Westendorfs started camping at the fair, hardly any other members of their 4-H club did so. But soon the trend caught on as a large portion of the Country Cousin 4-H club began camping. Since then, the club has carried on the tradition to more than the fair. Every fall, the families go camping at other campgrounds for additional fun.
“You always felt like you are missing out on things when you don't camp,” said Jan Westendorf. “You get to meet kids from other clubs and areas and develop long lasting relationships with other kids.”
“If you are going to be at the fair, you might as well be there for the whole thing,” Bob Westendorf said.