Gov. Laura Kelly revels in Kansas' heritage and future at State Fair, gives 220 lbs pumpkin an award

Alice Mannette
The Hutchinson News

Promoting Kansas comes naturally for Gov. Laura Kelly. 

On Thursday, Kelly spoke to members of the Kansas State Fair board, toured the state fair, ate a chicken-stuffed cucumber, and spoke with 4-H students. She also gave out the special fair awards, including ones for watermelon, corn and quilts.

"We've been through a rough 18 months," Kelly said during the Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce breakfast on the fairgrounds. "This is a nice way to celebrate some semblance of normal."

Kelly spoke of the importance of bringing jobs and businesses to Kansas, 

"We've brought in more businesses in 2020 than in any other year," she said. "We brought in $6.4 billion of new capital investment. That translates to 28,000 new jobs."

Increasing broadband coverage, helping with rural train lines and bringing back the Main Street program, as well as working with local chambers and city managers, is a part of her plan to help rural communities thrive.

Gov. Laura Kelly speaks to people attending the Hutchinson / Reno County Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Dillon Hall inside the Encampment Building at the Kansas State Fair Thursday morning, Sept. 16, 2021.

She is also helping rural grocery stores with changing the way they serve, offering online and delivery options. 

"We have too many food deserts," she said.

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In addition, Kelly said Kansas needs more housing because of the increase in available jobs, especially in more rural areas like Dodge City and Iola. 

"First, we have to do a housing study," she said. "We know we have a housing shortage, but you can't do anything without the data." 

Gov. Laura Kelly looks at photographs created by 4-H members from across Kansas, with 4-H'er Sukesh Kamesh from Kingman County on Thursday morning, Sept. 16, 2021, in the 4-H Centennial Hall building at the Kansas State Fair.

Kelly said she wants to help encourage young people to stay in their community, saying Kansas needs safe roads, safe schools, access to health care, and a strong internet. She also has introduced agriculture back in the classroom and is looking for ways to work with the state fair to partner with government and industry to teach youth about agriculture.

"I see the state needing to be a partner... to provide resources that only the state can provide," she said. "We have to invest in Kansas in order to grow."

Part of investing in Kansas is investing in youth, she said, adding that speaking with two 4-H students, Sukesh Kamesh of Kingman and Emma Littich of Lindsborg, was inspirational. 

"That is the future of Kansas," she said. "It's wonderful to meet so many smart, engaged kids. That makes me excited about the future."

Denise Pounds presents the winning cookie jar to Gov. Laura Kelly. The winning cookie jar remains on display through the end of the fair and then is taken to Topeka and given to the governor.

108th Governors Awards

At the end of her day at the fair, Kelly presented the best watermelon award to Wayne DeWerff of Ellinwood, the largest pumpkin award — 220 pounds  — to a Steven James of Clyde, and the best the quilt award to Linda Hofmeier of Hutchinson. It took Hofmeier  two years to design, block and sew her quilt.

As for the cookie jar full of hand-made cookies, the governor presented Denise Pounds of Hutchinson with the award, but after the fair, the jar with a Kansas theme will be delivered to the Governor's home. 

The state fair "is such an iconic event," Kelly said. "It showcases the very best of Kansas from all over the state."

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Linda Hofmeier is photographed with Gov. Laura Kelly in front of her Best of Show Quilt in the Pride of Kansas building at the Kansas State Fair Thursday afternoon.