“100 Years at the Northwest
Washington Fair”
by Sarah Eden Wallace

The Northwest Washington Fair
wraps up Whatcom County’s
summers in a happy hubbub of hard
work, high jinks and heritage. Learn
what it’s like to show livestock and
dive into the mechanical mayhem of
the demolition derby. There’s
hold-your-breath thrills at the
horse events and sweet stories of
how people fell in love at the fair.
Mixing history with heartwarming
stories, it takes you back to simpler
times and the country life found
only at the fair.

Available at the Northwest Washington Fair
office and Village Books.

“People want to return to when times were slower – and the fair offers that. It’s there if you look for it.” 

-former Fair Board President Jim Hale

Cooking for the grandstand celebs

(From “100 Years at the Northwest Washington Fair” by Sarah Eden Wallace)

Johnny Cash wanted 25 steaks. The Beach Boys banned Styrofoam
cups. And a homesick 19-year-old guitar player from Glen Campbell’s
band just wanted to sit on the steps of the travel trailer where three
Lynden moms cooked for the grandstand acts and eat a big piece of cake.

Stirring up backstage meals on a four-burner propane stove in a
24-foot RV, Kim Bonsen, Pat George and Karen Stoffer dished up
home-cooked fare for a parade of the top talent in country music for 20
years at the fair.

“Our friend Joanne VanderYacht was office manager at the fair”
when it first began bringing in big-name entertainers in 1983,
remembers George. “We were out for dinner, and she asked, ‘Do you
guys know anybody I could get to cater a dinner for Johnny Cash?’
“We joked that we could do it. A couple of weeks later, she said,
‘Seriously, you’re all good cooks’ … and that’s how it started.”
After checking the musicians’ booking contracts for specific requests,
the three Lynden friends would start chopping and frying in the trailer
(which the George family took camping when it wasn’t catering to the
stars). With its bright-orange interior, it was a homey haven for the
celebrities, including a chilly Pam Tillis who wanted to warm up on a
rainy afternoon.

“We found out they were just people like you and me even though
they happened to do that for a living,” says George. “They’d just sit
there and talk.”

Set up by the stage in a makeshift tent compound with folding tables,
ice chests, grills and water from a single faucet that the fair crew hooked
to a long hose, they would feed 20-25 people including “the sound guys,
lighting guys, entourage, band.”

They served nearly 80 celebrities in 20 years, so many that sometimes they draw a blank. “Did we have Toby Keith?”

“Barbecued salmon was a treat for people that weren’t from the
West Coast,” says George. Other popular chow included beef stew from a
recipe from Bonsen’s mother, Elaine Shumway, pot roast, scalloped
potatoes, chicken and rice.
After doing the dishes by hand (“No paper plates,” says Bonsen.
“Never.”), they would make 11 p.m. runs to the grocery store or bake a
late-night cake.
The friends served nearly 80 celebrities in those 20 years, so many
that sometimes they draw a blank. “Did we have Toby Keith?” says
George, looking over Bonsen’s notes. “I don’t remember that.” They do
recall Brad Paisley was almost bucked off a horse he’d asked to borrow
and how Janie Fricke showed them her costumes.
The fair was the trio’s only experience as professional caterers. While
Bonsen and George were born and raised in Lynden, they’d never
entered food goods at the fair.
Actually, “I don’t like to cook,” admits Bonsen. She chuckles, “My
husband says it’s the only time of the year I cooked.”

Texas sheet cake

Kim Bonsen, Pat George and Karen Stoffer

For 20 years, Kim Bonsen, Pat George and Karen Stoffer of Lynden cooked
homemade meals for the entertainers who came to the Northwest Washington
Bonsen remembers that one time she made a rather lumpy version of this
popular cake for Charley Pride’s crew when she forgot to add baking powder.
“Charley Pride’s wife (Rozene) came in and sat down and said to us, ‘That is
the best fudge I ever tasted.’”
“We just looked at each other.”

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick margarine
1/2 cup oil
4 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup water
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon soda

1 stick margarine
4 tablespoons cocoa
6 tablespoons milk
1 pound powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Grease and flour a 10- by 13-inch jelly roll pan.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Sift together flour, sugar and baking powder.
In a medium pan, bring margarine, oil, cocoa and water to a boil.
Slowly add flour and sugar mixture. Stir well.
Add eggs, buttermilk, soda and vanilla.
Pour into pan. Bake 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
For frosting, bring margarine, cocoa, milk, sugar and vanilla to a boil
in a medium pan. Beat until smooth.
Frost immediately.