Let me start by explaining that I’m far from a newbie when it comes to the State Fair of West Virginia. The annual agricultural, educational and family event held in Lewisburg, just minutes from The Greenbrier, each year, has been a part of my life for as long as I remember.
As a youngster, I loved going to the fair, riding the carnival rides, watching the harness races, climbing on the tractors and eating as many sweet treats as possible. As a teenager, it was about hanging out with friends, going to the concerts and eating as many sweet treats as possible. As an adult, I love sharing those experience with my son, seeing the excitement through his eyes and, of course, eating as many sweet treats as possible.
I’ve seen the fair from just about every angle. In high school, one of my first jobs was working at the gates, taking tickets and stamping hands on the way out. That evolved into a summer job in college, working on the maintenance crew painting, mowing, setting up for the fair and whatever else needed to be done. My dad, at one time, was the Dairy Superintendent and later a member of the Board of Directors, so I’ve seen the fair from the inside, as well.
I’ve experienced the draft horse pull, the bull riding and the arts and crafts. I’ve swept under the grandstand, painted the barns, hung quilts in the West Virginia building, cleaned out the horse and cow barns, helped set the stage for concerts, watched the “Best Dressed Cow” contest and eaten more country ham sandwiches from the Greenbrier East FFA Ham Stand than I can count. But until the 2021 fair, I had never witnessed the Greenbrier/Monroe Youth Livestock Association State Fair Auction.
When I was invited to join The Greenbrier Executive Chef Bryan Skelding and The Greenbrier Chief Financial Officer Adam Long for the auction last summer, I didn’t exactly protest. It was a Monday afternoon, and a Monday at the fair is always better than a Monday at the desk. Plus, I could grab one of those country ham sandwiches, and maybe even some Ben Ellen Donunts.
I arrived at the Small Stock Arena, sandwich in hand, about 30 minutes before the event’s scheduled start, and it quickly became clear that this was something bigger than I had anticipated. Finding Skelding and Long wasn’t as easy as expected, because the arena was packed with eager bidders and general spectators. The stands around the edges were basically full, and so were the chairs on the arena floor. The energy in the building was palpable as the youth prepared to show their animals and bidders plotted their strategies.
When the auction, celebrating its 23rd
anniversary, began with the Grand Champion goat, I soon found out that the action inside the arena rivaled anything I could find in the midway. Youth ages 8-21 — most part of either 4-H or FFA organizations — did their best to control their animals and present them in the best possible light for the bidders. Some even fought back tears as they knew they were saying goodbye to an animal for which they had loved and cared, many from birth.
“Nothing about the project is easy, and that’s why it means so much to us to support these kids,” said Long, who was part of the auction for 11 years during his youth, selling lambs and hogs. “The project helps teach so many life lessons, and the experiences stick with these youth long after their animals are sold.”
As the youngsters completed the final steps of their projects, bidders made sure their efforts were rewarded, raising their hands and flashing their auction numbers to get in on the action. Auctioneers spoke faster than the man running the “Fat Albert” game in the carnival, and assistants on the floor helped keep track of the bids. The action was fast and furious, and new faces constantly came in and out of the building throughout the 4-hour auction.
The overall theme of the afternoon, though, was support and graciousness. Youth after youth came back after their animal had been sold to shake the hand of the winning bidder and offer a gracious “thank you.” Some even presented the winning bidders — which included banks, farms, car dealerships, agricultural stores, paving companies and many other area businesses and individuals — with small tokens of their appreciation, such as snacks and drinks.
The gratitude was certainly genuine, as the bids were high — most in attendance agreed as high as they had ever seen — and the youth used the money to help fund everything from back-to-school outfits to college tuition.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Skelding, who has now been attending the auctions for 8 years. “We get a lot of thank you cards afterwards, too, and they’re just so appreciative. It’s great knowing we could help them out.”
Although it took an entire community to make the sale what it was — more than $444,000 was raised for the participating youth, as 76 different buyers purchased 199 total animals — The Greenbrier played a huge part by purchasing 32 total steers, hogs, goats and lambs. It total, America’s Resort committed more than $65,000 to these youngsters throughout West Virginia, and its bids on other animals it didn’t buy helped drive the prices higher, putting more money in the pockets of the youth that worked so hard on the projects.
“That’s the biggest reason we’re here,” said Skelding. “We want to get the market up for all the kids. They invest time and money, and we want them to do well. It’s important for us to support the community. It’s fun to get it going and help these kids earn some money.”
“The Greenbrier had a history with this before, but when the Justice family bought (the resort), they showed up in a big way,” added Long. “They always have at this sale.”
That’s not the only place the Justice family and The Greenbrier have made an impact. The Greenbrier is a proud part of the community, and that’s one reason I have always been so proud to be a part of The Greenbrier Team. Whether its donating $1 million worth of toys to needy children through The Greenbrier’s Dream Tree for Kids initiative at Christmas, giving to youth and high school sports or charitable initiatives throughout the region, lighting The Greenbrier gold for childhood cancer or pink for breast cancer awareness or the countless other ways America’s Resort gives back, it’s clear that community is central to the mission of the iconic resort.
The Greenbrier is more than just an employer in Greenbrier County. It’s a key cog in the success of Greenbrier County and the entire state, and as I watched Skelding and Long raise their hands again and again to support hard-working youth from around the state, I saw the fair, and my employer, from an entirely new perspective.
Now, where can I get one of those legendary state fair cinnamon rolls?