This year, fair-goers may notice a couple of new additions to the Southern Iowa Fairgrounds.
In front of the Varied Industries Building, a bench memorializing the late Judy Phillips can be seen. Another bench in her honor sits near the Free Stage.
Gene Phillips said it’s “fantastic” to see these benches honoring his late wife on display for the first time at this year’s Southern Iowa Fair.
Judy and Gene owned and operated Wood ‘N’ Stuff Crafts and Toys in Penn Central Mall together. Their booth at the Varied Industries Building has been a staple of the Southern Iowa Fair since the early 1990s.
However, Judy’s history with fair activities goes back much further.
She began showing calves with 4-H way back in 1960. After attending William Penn University for a year, Judy worked at the Wilcox Library for eight years. She then worked at Pella Corporation for 30 years, where Gene said they became acquainted.
The couple were wed May 11, 1990.
From there, the Phillips’ enthusiasm for the Southern Iowa Fair grew by leaps and bounds.
Gene said he decided to retire from Pella Corporation in 1993 in order to go into work on Wood ‘N’ Stuff. The Phillips’ attended numerous craft shows at different places before deciding to set up a booth at the Southern Iowa Fair.
“The building we’re sitting in now was a tent at that time,” said Gene while sitting at his booth in the Varied Industries Building at the Southern Iowa Fair on Wednesday.
Because there was no way to lock up a tent at night, Gene and Judy would unpack all of their craft items in the tent each morning and pack them up each night during the fair.
Wood ‘N’ Stuff operated for many years in the Penn Central Mall. Gene said he and Judy would close up the store at that location each year during the fair — essentially moving their business to the fairgrounds for a week during the past five years.
Gene said he and Judy’s mutual love for the Southern Iowa Fair kept them coming back to set up their display every year. He said Judy really liked being able to interact with children face to face at the fair — answering their questions about certain items at the Wood ‘N’ Stuff booth or just having a nice chat with them.
Many of the more popular items at the Wood ‘N’ Stuff booth are toys that children enjoy, noted Gene.
“My wife was a kids person,” said Gene. “She just really loved kids.”
The Phillips’ involvement in the Southern Iowa Fair has gone beyond having a booth at the Varied Industries Building. Judy was a supervisor for the open class hobbies at the fair, said Gene.
Gene said the appeal of entering items into the open class hobbies at the fair was that a lot of fair-goers would see what contestants had spent time creating. Another area of the fair that involved not only creativity, but ingenuity was the Pine Wood Derby, which Judy also loved.
Gene noted that about three years ago, the Pine Wood Derby got going at The Southern Iowa Fair, which he and Judy sponsored. He said Judy initiated the derby at the fair and that it has been very popular.
Acknowledging every child participating in the Pine Wood Derby was a priority for Judy.
“Everybody that entered a car in any of our Pine Wood Derby things got some kid of reword,” said Gene.
A Pinewood Derby will be held near the Free Stage at 3 p.m. Saturday.