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Greenbrier County

Aug. 14

As I wind down my 55-county tour of our state, I could not imagine going out with a bigger bang than at the State Fair of West Virginia in Fairlea, near Lewisburg in beautiful Greenbrier County.

Over the summer, I have popped into a few county fairs, including ones in Jackson and Braxton counties, observing heifer-judging contests and befriending piglets.

But this—the iconic State Fair—is a fair on steroids.

President Gee on a tractor.

Marlene Pierson-Jolliffe and all the Fair board members should be very proud.

I know I am proud of all the West Virginia University Extension agents, staff, volunteers and 4-H youth for their hard work all around the fairgrounds. That was particularly on display inside the West Virginia University Building.

First off, it was nice seeing folks wearing gold-and-blue bow tie stickers for my visit.

Students Brianna Maze, Roxanne Bumgardner and Gabrielle Hamner greeted me at a booth hosted by our Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. They taught me a bit about biometrics and they scanned my iris. This is a very cool tool at the Fair, for sure.

President Gee with students

I also met Chuck Phares and his daughter Amber of Zides Sport Shop. You might recognize the pair from their Mountaineer apparel shop at the Coliseum. It was great to see lots of gold-and-blue goodies for sale and folks adorning our colors in that part of the state—a solid three-and-a-half-hour trek from Morgantown.

It is clear that the people of West Virginia love West Virginia, and they love West Virginia University.

Right across from the West Virginia University Building, I toured through the magnificent Master Gardeners’ garden. The garden at the State Fair is done by a WVU Extension volunteer group, the Master Gardeners. Kudos to master gardeners Willa Izzo and Delores Barber for adding even more beauty to the Fair with all of the flowers and plants.

President Gee with Willa Izzo and Delores Barber

Just walking through the fairgrounds was an enlightening experience.

The sights, the sounds, the smells.

I spotted the popular steak sandwich stand that everyone raves about. It was tempting. And if you have never consumed hot, fresh Ben-Ellen donuts, you, my friend, are missing out.

At the Governor’s Day luncheon, I caught up with many of our friends and public officials, including the governor himself, Earl Ray Tomblin; Secretary of State Natalie Tennant; state Board of Education President Gayle Manchin; state Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick; and numerous legislators.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and President Gee

The gathering reinforced the importance of agriculture, education and our Extension offices in our great state.

Following the lunch, I wandered around the fairground a bit more and met with an old friend, Andrea Pendleton, who is mayor of Rainelle. Her son is a West Virginia state trooper and I got to joke around with him and some of his cohorts. They did not place me under arrest.

President Gee with Rainelle mayor Andrea Pendleton and her son

The 55-county tour has, indeed, been exhilarating.

Traversing our state’s mountains and valleys this summer, I re-acquainted myself with the unique character of West Virginia. So much of that character was on display at the State Fair.

President Gee in Mountaineer mascot cut-out

Even for non-West Virginia natives, the allure of West Virginia University has a way of converting people into true Mountaineers. Eric Murphy is one of those folks. Eric is one of our Extension agents from Monongalia County who was on-hand at the Fair to spread the good word about our University.

Eric is originally from my old stomping grounds of Columbus, Ohio. But now I am proud to call him one of us.

Eric Murphy takes a selfie with President Gee

Our University represents opportunity for all West Virginians; and those who want to be West Virginians. We want to be the most important force for positive change in people’s lives.

Our University, Extension and the State Fair have a lot in common. We value tradition and family. We inspire dedication and creativity. We bring out the best in our youth. Above all, we are committed to creating a blue-ribbon future for West Virginia.