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Being there for 75 Sonoma County Fairs

  • Donna Koch, 74, has attended 74 (or is that 73?) straight county fairs. She'll be watching over the Forestville 4H in the sheep stalls at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds again this year.

Donna Koch, a Santa Rosa great-grandmother, holds a Sonoma County Fair record that no one else is likely to beat.

It's not for the ribbons she won showing Jersey cattle at the fair as a 4-H member from Forestville in the 1940s and '50s.

Nor is it for the dozen children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who followed in her footsteps as ag youth exhibitors at the fair.

2011 Sonoma County Fair Preparations

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Koch, who will turn 75 on Sept. 17, was at the first county fair in 1936, and has — by her account — been at every fair since then for at least one day, and for many years, every day.

"I was there in a clothes basket," said Koch, a spry septuagenarian who relies on her parents' account for that fair visit when she was about a month old. "I couldn't tell you much about it."

Koch, born and raised on her family's Forestville ranch, has a trove of recollections from her nine years as a 4-H exhibitor, followed later by her 35 years as a 4-H leader and 16 years working in the fair's premium and livestock offices.

Koch's father, Don Winkler, showed prize-winning Jersey dairy cattle, bantam chickens and Hampshire hogs at the fair and once had a horse race named for him.

Koch's daughter, Diana Stornetta, is a Green Valley 4-H leader who showed cattle at the fair in her youth.

"The fair is the strongest link we have with Sonoma County's past and our own family heritage as ranchers living on the land," Stornetta wrote in a Press Democrat Voices column in 2007.

Koch's great-grandson, William Hamilton, 14, is keeping the tradition alive, showing sheep and cavies at the fair, which opens its Diamond Jubilee 75th anniversary edition today.


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