The Ohio State Fair's Blue Ribbon Battles

Lia Eastep
Artist Gail Paulus at the Martin Janis Senior Center with some of her creations for the Ohio State Fair

If variety is the spice of life, the Ohio State Fair’s competitions are a giant, zesty feast where contenders take their best shots in watermelon carving, miniature shipbuilding, growing the finest beard and many, many more. Three competitors spoke with us before this year’s fair to explain the lure of the podium.

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Hannah Lewis

Worthington, Deviled Eggs

Awards: Third place in 2017

After seeing the winners at the fair for years, I thought, “I could do that, too!” It has turned into a new tradition. My husband and I run a food blog [], so we really love to share recipes with the world.

I test different recipes, going through about four dozen eggs, and get feedback from friends and family. The day of the competition, I make a timing schedule to get it to the judges as fresh as possible. The biggest challenge is getting the consistency right to pipe the filling into the egg.

I have no fear of the stage, so I love the live competition. The crowd of genuinely excited people makes it so fun. Because I’ve tested the recipe so many times, the time constraint isn’t tricky; I usually have five or so minutes left before time runs out.

Kendall Sestili

Dublin, Goats

Awards: Sixth place for Junior Market Wether Goats, and the 2018 Ohio 4-H State Achievement Award in Veterinary Science

My mom was always involved in the fair and wanted that for her kids. My brother and I showed small animals, but I always wanted to show larger livestock and finally got to with market goats.

The goats are judged based on how muscular they are and how firm, thick and show-ready. To help [this year’s goat] Sam build muscle, I walk him on a treadmill, have him climb on objects, jump and walk on his back legs. We practice getting him used to wearing a collar and work on “bracing”—getting into a stance that best shows off his muscles. About a week before the show, I shave his hair, getting it perfect.

I am always myself at the fair. It has opened up so many new opportunities for me, given me many accomplishments and awards, lifelong friends and memories that I will never forget.

Gail Paulus

Columbus, Upcycling

Awards: In 2018, second place for a toilet-seat bathroom clock and a cardboard cat sculpture; in 2016, second place for a light-fixture terrarium and third place for a table-lamp planter

I love turning something ordinary into something extraordinary or surprising. I’m inspired by things that I find at garage sales or things that are going to be thrown away. It’s so much fun to look at something in a completely different way.

It is a mental challenge that I find stimulating and fulfilling. I begin by making sketches of ideas. Then I just dive into the project. My boyfriend also competes, and my goal is always to beat him.

It’s also always fun to see what other people have done; the more creative others are, the higher the bar is set for me. Some of the things I’ve made I think are definite winners going in, but it’s always interesting to see what strikes the judge’s fancy.


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