Bulls and boars and Herky, oh my!
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There are two things I love about being an Iowan: working at the University of Iowa and attending the Iowa State Fair. When I learned I could combine them, I answered the call in a heartbeat.
A few years back, the university started asking employees to volunteer at our exhibit in the air conditioned Varied Industries Building, greeting visitors, sharing Hawkeye spirit, and ensuring no one walks away without a Tigerhawk tattoo.
I’ve loved the State Fair since my first visit as a young adult. The people watching is fantastic, the animals astounding, and the food—well, let’s just say it’s a good thing you have to walk all day while you’re enjoying all the fair has to offer.
Add in the opportunity to represent the university I’m so proud to be a part of and it’s really no contest—hands down the best way to spend a summer day.
It’s hard to say what to expect when you sign up to volunteer. In my experience, no two days are quite the same. Weekends are definitely busier than weekdays. You need to brush up a bit on your sports lingo, as fair-goers just love to speak Hawkeye. The strange request for a tattoo placement on a hairy back might just be outweighed by the cuteness of an entourage of Red Hat Society ladies who all want them on their cheeks.
One of the best things the UI fair committee has done in recent years is to include volunteers’ hometowns on their name tags. In my case, it’s equal parts puzzled glances (“Lone Tree? Where is that?") and enthusiastic greetings from friends of friends or long-departed neighbors. But I think it really gives the sense that the UI is not just Iowa City. We’re here for the state and we come from all over the state.
I’ve also been lucky enough to work in a department that not only supports my desire to volunteer, but does not let concerns about being short-staffed prevent three colleagues from joining me for a shift. It’s amazing how a day away from the office together builds a bond and renews your energy for the work back home.
My co-workers also introduced me to some of the best fair foods I’d never tried, including a cup full of warm chocolate chip cookies, sold just steps away from the university’s exhibit space. I’ve definitely added those to my list of long-time favorites like the ice cold pickle, lamb kebobs, and pork chop on a stick.
Speaking of which, I once stood in the pork chop line right next to Bob Dole. In an election year the place is crawling with candidates, which is another bonus for a political junkie like me.
If you’ve ever thought about going to the fair but just haven’t gotten around to making the trip, I can’t think of a better way to go than as a volunteer. It gives you a purpose for being there (not to mention a free ticket and parking) and when you’re done with your shift, you have plenty of time to stroll the grounds, taking in all the fair has to offer.
Amy Green is a secretary with UI International Programs and has volunteered in the university’s State Fair exhibit for the last eight years.