Family traditions, spinning rides and crowd-pleasing dishes at the Alaska State Fair

PALMER — The Trudeau family waited patiently outside the red gate of the Alaska State Fairgrounds on Friday morning, staying dry even as overcast skies threatened.

Standing at the front of the line on opening day, they had already planned their first stop by the time the doors opened.

Much to the dismay of the four children in the family, it would not be a food stand, a carnival game or a merry-go-round.

“The photo button,” said Mike Trudeau, the children’s father. “We’ve had one for every year for six or seven years. … We have them all on the fridge.

Alaska State Fair, Trudeau Family

Bringing home a memento from The Button Guys stand has become an annual tradition for the Wasilla family, as well as other visitors to the fair. For the Trudeaus, it goes back to the mother Chelsea Trudeau’s family, the Gojenolas, whose family brought home pimples for decades.

“I’ve had a pimple every year since I was 4,” she said.

Alaska State Fair, Trudeau Family

The buttons not only commemorate the Trudeau family’s annual trip to the fair, they have also become an indicator of the family’s growth over the years. Since the beginning of the tradition, the family has grown with the addition of Ivy, 2, and Mary Jo, 7 months, while Eva, 12, and Mike, 11, have grown significantly.

“The bench is getting a little small,” joked Mike Trudeau.

But fear not for the Trudeau children. The family’s second stop was for ride tickets.

Alaska State Fair, Trudeau Family
Alaska State Fair, Trudeau Family
Alaska State Fair, Trudeau Family

Inside the fairgrounds, Kendyl Ligman and her mother Renee roamed the halls of the Irwin show building late Friday morning, scanning the walls for recognizable objects.

The hall houses displays of crafts like sewing and quilting as well as pottery and carpentry, and Kendyl Ligman was as prominent as virtually any attendee.

“She has 20 starters,” her mother said. “So we’re checking in on how she’s doing.”

Ligman’s 2022 resume included felt work, hand sewing, painting, and a number of pottery entries.

“I’ve always loved doing random little crafts, and a few years ago I thought I could partake in a few and make some money, so I started doing more,” Ligman said.

The Ligmans are a military family and have visited fairs all over the United States. Renee Ligman said the Alaska State Fair ranks among the best.

“We try to hang out every day,” she said. “It’s just different. We are military and have lived everywhere and been to all the different fairs, and this one is so unique.

After an initial visit, Wasilla residents had noticed a few second places and a first prize for a painted plate for Kendyl.

[This weekend: Alaska State Fair opens, plus Chugach Fest and Greek Festival in Anchorage]

Alaska State Fair

Nine-year-old Griffin Doney teetered through the G-Force front door on Friday, the first passenger of the day on the classic Gravitron ride restart.

The Anchorage resident offered a one-word review of his condition after the ride: “Dizzy,” he said.

Griffin’s father, Chris, shook his head at the thought of joining his son in the ride, but like the Trudeaus, he planned to continue the family streak of getting fair trade buttons.

“It’s been (a tradition) for over 20 years,” Chris Doney said. “Our fridge is covered, now it’s in the freezer in the garage.”

Anchorage’s Mike Mobley was still weighing his plan of action as he waited outside the gates just before they opened Friday morning.

“We will hit cattle and vegetables,” he said. “It’s always a big attraction. Of course, food is at the top of the priority list.

And there are plenty of options at the fair – from eves like elephant ears and corn dogs to more unique offerings, like donut burgers.

Alaska State Fair

Beyond the food vendors, there are also demonstrations for visitors who prefer a more hands-on experience of the show. The Hoskins Building hosts the winners of various exhibit competitions, ranging from spirits and photography to canned goods and baked goods.

Around noon, Julie Cascio set up the demonstration to make her recipe for rhubarb scones.

“It’s a pretty basic question,” she said. “We just add some of the wonderful things that we can grow here and add to it.”

Cascio directs UAF’s Health, Home and Family Outreach Program in the Mat-Su/Copper River District, giving presentations on the types of food preparation and storage featured at Hoskins.

She was already boasting of the following demonstration for Rebecca Anderson’s homemade onion rings.

“Rebecca is a wonderful cook,” she said.

Food was the common theme for a pair of Wasilla residents, Courtney Johnson, 23, and Kindall Rumbo, 22.

They arrived at the end of the morning with the intention of making it a day before the main show of the evening, the folk group Caamp.

“We’re really here for the food,” Johnson said. “Last year was the first year they made these Dutch pancakes. We’ll probably do that.

Alaska State Fair