Milford’s Kenton reflects on lifelong love of Delaware State Fair

Former Delaware State Rep. Harvey Kenton, of Milford, has been on the board of directors for the Delaware State Fair since 1986. He’s also been a vice president since 2010, sat on every committee available and says he attends at least 80 to 90 meetings per year ahead of the fair. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

HARRINGTON — After watching daredevil stunts with his father at the Delaware State Fair, a little boy around the age of 5 soon found himself wandering around without a parent.

It would be the first fair he would distinctly remember.

“I looked away at something. I walked away and got lost,” the little boy recalled more than 70 years later.

Harvey Kenton, 77, a former state representative, current college student and member of the Delaware State Fair’s board of directors, says the experience didn’t deter him from enjoying endless fairs for decades to come.

“I haven’t missed a fair since. And I haven’t been lost since, either. I think my dad was lost, not me,” he joked.

“I think it’s part of my heritage. A TV announcer interviewed me and he asked if I had been to all 100 fairs. I said, ‘I made 77 of them.’”

Mr. Kenton stepped down from the Delaware House of Representatives last year after eight years serving Milford. But since 1986, he has been on the board of directors for the fair. He’s also been a vice president since 2010, sat on every committee available and says he attends at least 80 to 90 meetings per year ahead of the fair.

During the fair itself, he can be found around the fairgrounds 12 to 14 hours a day enjoying the camaraderie only an event of such caliber can offer.

This year’s edition of the Delaware State Fair, which was its 100th, ended Saturday night after 10 days of fun.

Mr. Kenton, second from right, attends the ribbon-cutting ceremony for DNREC’s renovated state fair building earlier this month ahead of the fair’s opening. Also pictured, from left, are Sen. Ernesto Lopez, Sen. Dave Wilson, Sen. Dave Lawson, Gov. John Carney and DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin. (DNREC photo/Joanna Wilson)

“I think my favorite part is the animals. That and the young children that go to see the animals. I love to see their reactions, especially down to the chickens and they hold the little bitty and they kiss it … they probably shouldn’t, but they do,” he said. “I get to meet people every day that I’ve seen come through here every single year.”

Like many regular fair attendees, he has his own camper on site although he admits to not using it much, as he prefers to be out and about with everyone else.

“I think the uniqueness of the fair is that we’ve tried to keep it a family- and agricultural-based fair. We still have, I think, 4,000 animals here at the fair every year. And goats, we have so many goats that we have to have a split show. Half of them come for the first half of the fair, and then they go home and new goats come in. This is where improvements to the ground become needed,” said Mr. Kenton, who is currently attending Delaware Technical Community College studying production agriculture.

In the future, the Delaware State Fair hopes to expand the building which houses the goats along with other areas of the fair. Over the years, many such improvements have helped the fair grow along with the state’s population.

“To me, it’s gotten so much better. I know a lot of people don’t like the blacktop, but it’s better than the roads with no drainage. We’ve cleaned it up a lot,” he said.

“I’m really proud of the fair, real proud. I just think the overall building improvements have been amazing. We’ve been able to, over the last 25 or 30 years, to really do some major capital improvements.”

One of Harvey Kenton’s responsibilities at the Delaware State Fair is to keep an eye on the main gate, information booth and the parking lot, He regularly checks on those areas to make sure everything is flowing smoothly and according to plan. (Delaware State News/Jennifer Antonik)

Aside from the improvements needed to keep the Delaware State Fair afloat, 35 full-time staff members work hard throughout the year, he added. But they will never be able to replace the manpower offered by dedicated volunteers like Mr. Kenton.

“One of my responsibilities here is to keep an eye on the main gate and info booth, and the parking lot,” he said proudly. He regularly checks on those areas to make sure everything is flowing smoothly and according to plan.

“The phone’s always ringing; there’s always issues,” he said, but it’s nothing the staff and volunteers at the Delaware State Fair can’t handle.

When he’s not running the informational booth or otherwise busy at the fair, Mr. Kenton is a thrill-seeker and finds joy in exploring the carnival rides.

“I love roller coasters, Ferris wheel. Any new ride, I have to try it. And the food. There’s so much variety of food here. Anybody on a diet, it doesn’t work. If you’re on a diet, don’t come to the fair. Not if you’re going to enjoy it anyways,” he said.

“One time, I met Paula Deen here at the fair. I saw her out there on a golf cart. She said she was having fair cuisine. And I said, ‘What is fair cuisine?’ She said, ‘It’s a corn dog, sir.’ I loved her and she hugged me, I thanked her again and she went on her way. Fair cuisine.”

Mr. Kenton says he plans on continuing to volunteer at the Delaware State Fair for as long as he can.

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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