‘We call each other our Fair family’

Eighty-one-year-old Pat Smith and 78-year-old Ellen Schmitz may joke around a bit, but both are serious when it comes to their jobs at the Washington State Fair.

Smith and Schmitz are among many senior employees who are re-hired every year by the fair, said Stacy Van Horne, public relations manager for the Puyallup tradition. Seniors are among the most respected part-time workers at the fair, and Van Horne said the strong work ethic of their generation is one big reason the fair is so grateful to have them come back year after year.

“They are the ones that return decade after decade. They are so loyal to the fair and passionate about it. Even though we are now called the Washington State Fair, we still have this kind of smalltown feel,” said Van Horne.

Smith is the information booth superintendent, overseeing all three booths at the fair. This means juggling schedules and making sure all the booths are staffed every single day of the fair, which this year runs from Aug. 31 to Sept. 23 (except Tuesdays and Sept. 5).

2018 will be Smith’s 18th year as an employee of the fair. She hits the road running, showing up to work at least an hour before the fairgrounds open for the day.

“Our employees are very good workers and very dependable. If you call them at the last minute to fill in, 99 percent of them will be there timely,” she said.

Information booth employees must be patient with guests, often dealing with language issues on a daily basis, Smith said. Information can change at the drop of a hat, and employees have to remain on top of everything.

“Our employees write things down and are so helpful to people,” said Smith. She added that an interpreter serves at the booths, and when they aren’t needed for a period of time, they wander through the grounds, ready to assist any fairgoer who needs help communicating.

At the Beef Barn, Ellen Schmitz, who has worked for the fair for 36 years, shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. A real taskmaster, Schmitz runs the show with a gentle but sometimes (when needed) tough manner, arriving every day by 5:30 a.m. and working non-stop for the next 12 to 15 hours.

“I stay until the job is done,” she said.

“We used paper and pencil when I first started, which I actually liked better,” Schmitz said, adding that because of the intense competition, everything has to be perfectly entered down to the last letter.

“I like the people and I like to see things are done on time and in the right order. Right is right, and wrong is wrong,” she said.

Smith and Schmitz have a lot in common, and when Smith talked about her work ethic, Schmitz cracked a smile and said, “You are just like me.”

“We call each other our fair family,” said Smith.

Van Horne is emphatic about how the fair’s management feels about senior employees.

“They take on the fair as their own. This is their fair, and that is how we want our guests to feel. Many remember coming to the fair as children, and there is no one better than our seniors,” she said.

Smith and Schmitz said they will keep working until it is no longer fun to do so.

Van Horne said everyone hopes that day doesn’t come any time soon, because when these two hard-working ladies retire, it will be a sad day for the fair and for the guests who come back year after year.

Pat Smith (left) and Ellen Schmitz are back for another year of working at the Washington State Fair. Between them, they’ve helped the show go on for a combined 54 years. (Joan Cronk/for Senior Scene)


Senior discounts and other Washington State Fair facts

Admission: $11 for seniors 62 and older, $14 for ages 13 to 61, $11 for kids 6 to 12. Free for children 5 and under. Free admission: Aug. 31 (opening day) between 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. in exchange for donation of non-perishable food items in the KOMO food drive that benefits Puyallup Food Bank.

When: Aug. 31-Sept. 23. Days and hours::  For Labor Day weekend, 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday, 9:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday. After Labor Day, 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday, 9:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday. Closed: Every Tuesday and Sept. 5.

New food: You know and love Fisher Scones. This year, Fisher Scone ice cream will make its debut.

Information: thefair.com, 253-841-5045 (24-hour hotline), 253-845-1771 (office).