By Mary Spicer
WEST MEAD TOWNSHIP —
WEST MEAD TOWNSHIP — Cheryl French is sure of at least one thing: For only the second time since 1998, she won’t be competing for Crawford County Fair’s coveted 4-Star Homemaker Award in 2014.
That’s because the Cambridge Springs resident captured the crown, well, the red T-shirt, to be precise, this week and this contest has a mandatory retirement rule that allows a maximum of one 4-Star per person per lifetime.
That, however, does not mean that she won’t be busy as fair season 2014 rolls around.
“I’m still going to compete,” she said with a laugh following Wednesday’s award ceremony. “I just won’t have the pressure.”
The 4-Star pressure is impressive to behold.
Each 4-Star entrant, for example, is allowed to submit a maximum of three entries in each of four competition areas: Canned or dried foods, baking, clothing and needlecraft. After the entries are judged in the fair’s open class, the entries are taken to the 4-Star area along the rear wall of Exhibit Building 1, where points earned based on the ribbons won — blue, 20; red, 15; white, 10 — are calculated. If there’s a tie, the entrant with the most blue ribbons in all categories wins.
However, French wasn’t content to spend the past year perfecting the 12 items that counted toward the 4-Star Award. She entered a total of 82 items in the 2013 Crawford County Fair, capturing 29 blue ribbons, 18 red ribbons and 15 white ribbons.
This year’s run for the 4-Star was French’s 14th. “They (the 4-Star committee) talked me into it in 1998,” she recalled, noting that she chose not to compete one of the following years.
Asked for the secret of her success, French kept it simple.
“I decided to try the KISS thing — keep it simple, stupid,” she said. “I usually picked the more complicated things to enter for the 4-Star — and it just was not working.”
This time around, she did some simpler things — and also utilized the classic 4-Star approach of entering items that probably weren’t going to have a lot of competition.
“I did sliced green tomatoes for frying later and won a blue ribbon in canning,” she said. “I did different, odd things.”
The annual awards ceremony traditionally scheduled for early in the afternoon on the Wednesday of Fair Week took place in the usual time and place — with a twist. The entire 4-Star display area has been redesigned and reconstructed since last year by Bill Rowland, husband of the current 4-Star chairperson — 2012 4-Star winner Martha Rowland — and father of Beth Bustamanti, the 2008 winner.
The place was buzzing with excitement Wednesday afternoon when French, Marilyn Boyd and Lois Carr, winners of the second- and third-place awards, respectively, received their prizes.
“I have a lot of people who want to enter next year,” Rowland said. “That’s just wonderful. We don’t want these skills to die — we want them to carry on to the younger generations. We want younger people!”
Anyone interested in competing in 2014 should start thinking about it now, Rowland advised, urging potential competitors to visit the 4-Star display and talk to anyone in the vicinity wearing a fair badge about the 4-Star. If the person you select doesn’t know much about it, they’ll probably be able to refer you to someone who does — and will be delighted to talk to you, Rowland said.
This is also the time to check out this year’s entries in all the 4-Star competition categories with a sharp eye out for gaps just waiting to be filled.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.