Set for judging
By Josh Ellerbrock
Published in News on October 1, 2013 1:46 PM
Becky Bevell Pate, director for prepared foods, rearranges her area in the exhibit hall at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair Saturday. She remembered how delicious this blue-ribbon-winning pineapple cake was.
Mrs. Bevell Pate, left, helps Kim Newton with information about how to enter her grandmother's whipping cream pound cake for competition.
Becky Bevell Pate isn't exactly sure how long she has been working at county fairs, but a half century wouldn't surprise her.
"I don't know. I've been in the ECA for a number of years. I've been associated with the fair all my life, even in Mecklenburg County. I've been associated with the fair for the last 50 years.
"It gets in your blood."
Mrs. Bevell Pate, 73, is the quintessential fair contestant and volunteer. Welcoming yet competitive, she and her fellow mostly senior directors spend one busy day out of every year preparing fair entries for a curious public.
"I love doing it. I like seeing people once a year I don't see otherwise. It's just like a little community we have -- just a little sisterhood -- that works around with the displays in that area. We have the same interests. We all enjoy working with each other. We couldn't do it without each other. It's a wonderful experience to be able to share the knowledge we have gleaned over the years, too," she said.
"I enjoy it really. It's a fast-paced few hours, but you get to reconnect with people every year. It makes it nice, really," needlework director Robby McSwain said.
Exhibit directors' duties include helping the judges, setting up displays and receiving the different entries from nervous exhibitors.
"These exhibitors get so excited. They would rather have the ribbon than the money," Mrs. Bevell Pate said.
Beside being the first line of organization for all exhibits at the fair, being a director has its own set of unique challenges. For example, it can be hard to explain to contestants the challenges of egg judging.
"That's what everyone says when you bring in the eggs. I say, 'Well, we look at them.'" Mrs. Bevell Pate said.
Or sometimes, there can be dangers after being around frosting that's been in the heat for 10 days. Mrs. Bevell almost got an eye infection.
"My family said 'don't go,' but I can't turn it loose," she said.
Or even placement of a project can be difficult. Sometimes exhibitors may bring an item that doesn't fit a category so well. But directors make it work. If someone has spent the time on a project, it's going to get placed.
Most fair entries are from repeat contestants -- men and women who come in every year to bring their best to compete against others in Wayne County.
Other years, directors see something a little new.
This year, the Best in Show in the prepared food category was an amateur cake made by two young women, who, Mrs. Bevell Pate said, each sunk 20 hours preparing their "Charlotte's Web"-themed sweet. This was the first year Mrs. Bevell Pate also saw a vacuum-sealed container of cookies.
Robby McSwain, who has worked at the fair for almost two decades, saw a young woman, a first-year contestant, bring in a expertly cross-stitched picture of Jesus Christ, which took Best in Show in the needlework category.
Many of the directors also take part in the fair's exhibits in their areas of expertise.
For the last 23 years, Mrs. Bevell Pate has been baking bread and entering pieces. Now, her friends and family call her the "bread lady."
"I've won best in show several times. I'm a bread baker. I know the first time I ever did that. I was not working in that area. That was in 1989. I was just an exhibitor at that time and made a loaf of sourdough bread. I was timid about entering it."
But after winning the prize, her shyness about her bread has gone away. Bread baking is now one of her specialties, along with flower arrangement and collecting antiques.
"I made bread for the grandchildren when the kids were still here. During Christmas, it's nice to give a loaf of bread just to say 'I love you,'" she said. "If somebody needs to cheer up, and when they smell it, I send them home with a loaf."
Both Mrs. McSwain and Mrs. Bevell Pate proclaimed themselves too old to be doing their director jobs, but they don't plan on stopping anything soon.
"You set this time aside. This is fair time," Mrs. Bevell Pate said.