LOGAN – The Hocking County Fair may draw residents back from states all over the country, but some of its most loyal patrons chose to stay in Hocking County indefinitely.
Born and raised in Hocking County, Ernie and Bonnie Ruff are attending their 26th consecutive Hocking County Fair.
“We grew up in the city,” explained Bonnie. “We decided to raise our children in the country because we wanted them to have opportunities that we didn’t have when we were growing up.”
The Ruff’s have three girls; Buffy, who is now 37, Alicia, who is 25, and Kaylee, who is now 24.
Their love for the fair stemmed from their involvement with 4-H. When Buffy was 9-years-old, she joined 4-H and told her parents she wanted to show horses. The family supported her decision, even though they had no experience with showing horses, and soon Buffy was in the ring.
“There’s nothing like the smell of a barn, and I miss that,” said Bonnie. “We loved the horses, and our kids competed with them.”
“Just out a few miles from where we lived, there was a horse ranch, so I would take her out there a few times in the summer and she would horseback ride on a pony,” recalled Ernie. “So after that we talked to some friends of ours and they had a horse we were able to use, so I put up some fence and once we got the horse she started riding. We talked to some neighbors that we lived beside and they also had some horses that they showed at the fair, and that’s kind of how we got into everything.”
It was not an easy undertaking, but the Ruff family was committed to doing it right if they were going to compete at the fair.
“When our oldest daughter was growing up, there was no camping,” said Bonnie. “We had to crash on bales of hay if we wanted to rest, or on the tack box.”
Once Hocking County began permitting campers on the grounds, the Ruff family took advantage and spent the fair on the grounds, but that convenience in no way lessened the amount of work the family put into their hobby.
Buffy’s love of horses passed down to Alicia, and when she was old enough she was determined to show them as well.
Unfortunately, because of the 12 year age difference between the girls, by that time the family had sold the horses, the tack, everything that they had collected during Buffy’s showing career.
“So dad told her, ‘let’s try something else,’ and we said ok, let’s try sheep,” said Bonnie, who laughingly admitted they knew nothing about sheep either. “So we got her two sheep, and they were ok, her heart wasn’t in it but she tried the project.
“Two weeks before the fair started, her best show sheep died,” Bonnie continued. “Probably because of the heat, they’re pretty delicate. Dad said to her, ‘I’m sorry honey. Let’s just show chickens next year,' and Alicia replied, ‘well Dad, YOU can show chickens next year, I’M showing horses,’ and so that was the beginning of that,” Bonnie laughed.
“Kaylee never got into horses, she did the poultry, but because the older girls were so active in showing horses, Kaylee had to tag along with us,” said Bonnie. “But she never grumbled, it was a family thing, she helped when she needed to help and never gave an attitude.”
Though Kaylee stated that she was too intimidated by the animals to enjoy showing, she found her niche when she discovered signing, which she would do in her church. She performed on her own when she was little, and eventually went on to begin Heaven’s Silent Singers, currently out of Ebenezer Baptist Church. The group of young men and women performed a series of songs for the seniors of Scenic Hills Senior Center on Thursday for Seniors Day, earning a standing ovation from many and moving others to tears.
Bonnie and Ernie attribute the girl’s great attitudes to their involvement with 4-H.
“Our girls, their work ethic is excellent,” praised Ernie. “Because they’ve had to go out and even in the wintertime I would not feed for them at all, it was their responsibility. So they were up feeding, taking care of the water, whatever they needed to do, so I think this [4-H] has really helped them to be the better adult as they’ve gone out into the world and worked or whatever they’ve decided to do.”
“When they say you build character through 4-H, you truly do,” said Bonnie. “When you take care of your project, and you are the person that has to go out in the dead of winter to feed your animal, or if your animal is hurt you’re the one who has to go out and stay with it until it’s better, around the clock.”
The last year they were involved with 4-H was in 2008 or 2009, however they could not stop coming to the fair.
“Once they stopped 4-H, I continued to come stay down here because I saw the [other] kids growing up, and I wanted to see what their outcome would be through 4-H. So in doing that, I not only got anxious and had anxiety when my children showed, I got anxious and had anxiety when the children I knew were showing,” said Bonnie of her “adopted” children.
“I think by being in a small county, you basically know everyone, you don’t know them personally like real close friends but you know them, and that’s why it’s enjoyable to come and still see them compete and do well,” said Ernie.
“You feel for them if they don’t place, you’re excited for them if they do place, you want them to do well, but sometimes it doesn’t happen,” Bonnie added.
Though Ernie has not been able to take as much time as his wife, Bonnie uses the time as her vacation and stays through the entire fair, and plans to continue doing so as long as she can.
“I told Nancy Vermillion that if ever I don’t show up at the Hocking County Fair, you’ll know that I’ve passed away,” Bonnie joked. “Because I love it, I stay down here all week, my camper is right there, we get to see the kids, we’re out all night — well not all night,” she corrected with a laugh. “We just love the fair.”