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Keeping last Camp Fire lit

Austintown woman looks to keep organization name alive

CANFIELD — An Austintown woman seeks to keep the Camp Fire flame going.

The Mahoning County 4-H Junior Fair at the Canfield Fair is made up of seven youth organizations: 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Farm Bureau, Future Farmers, Grange and Camp Fire. Camp Fire barely has representation in Ohio, but there is one person who is keeping the name alive.

Jessica Ricker was with Camp Fire for more than 20 years and her parents Carol and Bruce Ricker of Austintown served as Camp Fire advisors when Jessica first joined. Jessica also loves the fair and enjoys being part of it through Camp Fire.

“I’m a fair baby,” she said. “I was born Aug. 30 and have never missed a Canfield Fair since.”

Jessica graduated from Fitch in 2008 and went on to the University of Akron. After obtaining her degree in biology and chemistry, Jessica returned to Austintown. She also agreed to fulfill a position on the Junior Fair board representing Camp Fire.

“We used to have a Camp Fire group that shared the Boy Scout Camp on Leffingwell Road in Canfield,” Jessica said. “The Camp Fire section of that camp was closed around 2006. There are not a lot of Camp Fire youth left in Ohio.”

She said there are one or two groups left and they don’t sound promising. Still, the title of Junior Fair Adult Camp Fire Advisor remains with Jessica’s name, and she continues to ensure some of the Camp Fire duties are at the fair.

“Unlike 4-H, we didn’t have livestock projects,” she said. “We had a booth we decorated in Building 25 that included any state awards from our cooking and sewing projects.”

Camp Fire got its start in 1910, according to its website. It was America’s first multiracial, multicultural and nonsectarian organization for girls, and became co-ed in 1975. There are 54 chapters or “councils” across the country, teaching youth the life skills they need to succeed and thrive.

Camp Fire also was known for the puppet shows locally. Carol was in charge of setting up a red barn that offered a puppet stage in the “Kiddie Land” area of the fair each year. The puppets were characters from Sesame Street and the Camp Fire youth would assist in putting the puppet show on during the fair.

“When I was an adviser, we had Camp Fire Clubs from Newton Falls and Austintown,” Carol said. “In 1975 Camp Fire went co-ed and we were among the first to have a boys group.”

Camp Fire drifted away with fewer and fewer members, but the tasks at the Canfield Fair did not. Jessica still handles the puppet show, but now gets volunteer youth from the other junior fair groups.

Jessica also handles several other segments of the junior fair as well. She handles the barn dance and the junior fair clothing, which includes shirts, sweat pants and hoodies. One final task is putting together the ice cream social on Sunday in the dairy area of the fair.

“As for Camp Fire, we have not had any youth representing the organization for a few years; the clubs have been disbanding, I believe there is only one or two clubs left in Ohio,” she said.

Jessica is the last local representative of Camp Fire, but she still keeps the puppets at home and ensures they are maintained in good repair for each year’s fair. Unfortunately, the red barn puppet theater is not doing so well.

“The barn is in pretty rough shape,” she said. “We are hoping someone will donate a new barn soon.”

jtwhitehouse@tribtoday.com

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