The 2016 Missouri State Fair is nearly over, but Debbie Littleton and her crew already are making plans for next year.
Littleton and her husband, Jeff, are among an ever-growing group that has come to the fair and camped together for more than 20 years. The tradition began with Littleton’s parents, Jeff and Agg Kruessel, and family friends Dennis and Carol Neidholdt.
“It started with my parents, then we kids got together, and now all of us have kids so it is just generation after generation,” Littleton said. “We all came together as the kids were showing in FFA. It just keeps going.”
There were 46 people in the group this year, ranging in age from 6 months to mid-60s and all hailing from Salisbury, Marceline and Keytesville in Chariton County. Among the group is Chariton County Sheriff Chris Hughes, who is a lifelong friend of Jeff Littleton and joined the group about a decade ago after he and his wife, Rhonda, visited the camping clan during a trip to the fair.
“They were having so much fun; it was so relaxing. I said, ‘You know, next year we’re coming. We’ll get a camper and we are going to start doing this,’” Hughes said.
Hughes’s two step-daughters have been part of the group, and the two boys he and Rhonda adopted now make the trip.
“It’s just a friendship, the time together, the memories that we make,” Hughes said. “This is just such a wonderful group of people, the best of the best. It’s making good family memories. (My boys) call Debbie’s mother ‘Grandma Agg’ when they see her.”
A lot of planning goes into the annual excursion, from what 4-H and FFA projects the kids will exhibit to what meals will be shared – although a shrimp feast and lots of homemade ice cream are always on the menu. Six years ago, the group started designing a T-shirt that goes along with that year’s fair theme; the design includes something that happened the previous year or a milestone. This year’s shirt included the number of days until Hughes retires from the sheriff’s office on Sept. 1.
The group comes to Sedalia the night before the campground opens each year so they can hit the gates early.
“We stay in the same spot every year,” Littleton said. “It’s the one time that we get together, set up the campers and just visit. We weren’t there five minutes (this year) and here comes a boy to our campsite who my son had made friends with last year. It’s made very good friendships throughout the years.”
The fair is the Littletons’ annual family vacation.
“We have people who ask us why we wait all year to (vacation) at the fair,” she said. “We have learned a lot of things throughout the years (and) met a lot of people.”
Littleton said the adults like the tractor pulls and Cowboy Mounted Shooting exhibitions, while Hughes said the younger members of the group, being “rural kids,” still like hanging out in the barns. Both the fair and the communal camping experience are “about making friendships that are never-ending,” Hughes said.
“Everybody is so friendly, everybody watches out for everybody, everybody watches out for the kids – it doesn’t matter if they are theirs or someone they don’t even know,” he added. “It’s a very family-oriented place. It’s like going home every year to the family reunion.”
Littleton is hopeful that annual experience continues for another generation or more.
“It is something that we will always continue to do,” she said. “I hope to see my grandkids someday doing this.”
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.