EAST AMWELL - Raritan Township resident Irv Hockenbury, who has been involved with the Hunterdon County 4-H and Agricultural Fair almost from the start, is the 2017 recipient of the Roger Everitt Award.
The annual designation recognizes people for extraordinary service to the fair. Hockenbury, 84, has lived in Reaville since 1934, moving to a farm there with his family from a Mount Airy farm just south of what’s now the fairgrounds on Route 179 here.
He was a third-generation dairy farmer until giving up the herd about 20 years ago to concentrate on raising hay, grain and vegetables.
“Roger and I were in the 4-H back in the 1940s; we showed cows at Flemington Fair,” Hockenbury noted. Active in various farm organizations, including the county Board of Agriculture and in the past, the Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead Museum near Lambertville, he got involved with the fair shortly after a small group of farmers and 4-H alumni decided to start a fair after the owners of the private Flemington Fair ceased holding it.
“The first year, I managed the stage. Don’t ask me how; I didn’t know nothing from nothing about it,” he said with a laugh. “The entertainment was nothing like it is today,” marveling at how Dan “Dr. D” Torrone has steadily improved the Main Stage operations.
Bob Hoffman of Tewksbury, the fair vice president and acting president since the death of Everitt earlier this year, noted that Hockenbury has long headed up the fair’s garden tractor pull. A similar pull was held at Flemington Fair:
“Orville Barrick and I got it started, back at least 30 years ago,” Hockenbury recalled. In recent times, “we’ve changed the rules a little to get the young involved, to try to eliminate guys who travel from pull to pull with ‘hot rods.’ So we have rules on the tires, etc. When anybody wants to come, they can pull, as long as they abide by the rules.”
Before the changes, “the youngsters didn’t have a chance” against pullers who arrived with tractors that were extensively modified.
He and his wife, Vilma, helped with registrations for the fair’s Farm Crops, Fruits and Vegetable shows for many years; she continued this year. While he was recovering from major heart surgery earlier in the summer, he was able to spend some time helping out with the registering this time and also played a major role in the garden tractor contest.
“I helped with the 4-H dairy shows for quite a few years, but I sort-of got out of that, I could not take walking around three or four hours straight,” he continued.
Hoffman noted that besides assisting at the fair itself, Hockenbury has offered many good suggestions over the years. “He goes to other fairs around the country and brings back different things that he had seen, things that he thought might work for us and or things that we shouldn’t do. He always has input, trying to think of things to help make our fair better.”
“He’s always there; if you need something, you call Irv up. If you asked him for advice, he’d give you advice. He’s always been helpful that way.”
Irv and Vilma have two sons, Bruce and Kurt and years ago they farmed around 300 acres, much of it rented, for cash crops as well as feed for their cattle. He credits staying active with helping keep him healthy for his age; just three days before going into the hospital, he unloaded 150 bales of hay.
The doctor said being in such good shape helped him survive the surgery. He’s already looking forward to next year’s fair.