Alaska Life

Family traditions, spinning rides and crowd-pleasing fare at the Alaska State Fair

PALMER — The Trudeau family waited patiently outside the red gate of the Alaska State Fairgrounds on Friday morning, staying dry even as overcast skies threatened.

Standing at the front of the line on opening day, they had already plotted out their first stop by the time the gates opened.

To the mild dismay of the family’s four kids, it would not be a food stand, carnival game or a ride.

“The photo button,” said Mike Trudeau, the children’s father. “We’ve got one for every year for the last six or seven years. ... We’ve got them all on the fridge.”

Taking home a souvenir from The Button Guys booth has become an annual tradition for the Wasilla family, as well as other fair-goers. For the Trudeaus it goes back to mother Chelsea Trudeau’s family, the Gojenolas, whose family took home buttons for decades.

“I took a button every year from the time I was 4,” she said.

The buttons not only commemorate the Trudeau family’s annual trip to the fair, they’ve also become an indicator of how the family has grown over the years. Since the tradition began, the family has expanded with the addition of 2-year-old Ivy and 7-month-old Mary Jo while 12-year-old Eva and 11-year-old Michael have grown up significantly.


“The bench is getting a little small,” Mike Trudeau joked.

But fear not for the Trudeau kids. The family’s second stop was for ride tickets.

Inside the fairgrounds, Kendyl Ligman and her mother Renee stalked the hallways of the Irwin Exhibit building late Friday morning, scanning the walls for recognizable items.

The hall houses exhibits for crafts like sewing and quilting as well as pottery and woodwork, and Kendyl Ligman was as prominent as virtually any entrant.

“She has 20 entries,” her mother said. “So we’re checking out to see how she’s doing.”

Ligman’s 2022 resume included felt needle work, hand sewing, painting and a number of pottery entries.

“I always just loved to do random little crafts, and a couple years ago I was like, I can enter a few of these and win money, so I started doing more,” Ligman said.

The Ligmans are a military family and have visited fairs all over the U.S. Renee Ligman said the Alaska State Fair stacks up with the best.

“We try to come out every day,” she said. “It’s just different. We’re military and have lived everywhere and have gone to all the different fairs, and this one is just so unique.”

After an initial walk-through, the Wasilla residents had noticed a few second-place finishes and a top prize for a painted plate for Kendyl.

[This weekend: Alaska State Fair opens, plus Chugach Fest and Greek Festival in Anchorage]

Nine-year-old Griffin Doney wobbled out of the front door of the G-Force on Friday, the first passenger of the day on the reboot of the classic Gravitron ride.

The Anchorage resident offered a one-word review of his post-ride condition: “Dizzy,” he said.

Griffin’s dad Chris shook his head at the notion of joining his son on the ride, but like the Trudeaus, he planned to continue the family streak of procuring fair buttons.

“It’s been (a tradition) for 20-plus years,” Chris Doney said. “Our refrigerator is covered, now it’s into the freezer in the garage.”

Mike Mobley of Anchorage was still assessing his plan of action as he waited outside the gates just before they opened Friday morning.

“We’re going to hit the livestock and the vegetables,” he said. “That’s always a big attraction. Of course, food is high on the priority list.”


And there are plenty of options at the fair — from standbys like elephant ears and corn dogs to more unique offerings, like doughnut burgers.

Beyond food vendors, there are also demonstrations for visitors who prefer a more hands-on fair experience. The Hoskins Building hosts the winners of various exhibit contests, from spirited beverages and photography to canning and baked goods.

Around noon, Julie Cascio was setting up the demonstration to make her recipe for rhubarb scones.

“It’s a pretty basic one,” she said. “We’re just adding some of the wonderful things we can grow here and add them.”

Cascio runs UAF’s Health, Home and Family Development extension program at the Mat-Su/Copper River District, giving presentations on the types of food preparation and preservation showcased at Hoskins.

She was already touting the following demonstration for Rebecca Anderson’s homemade onion rings.

“Rebecca is a wonderful cook,” she said.

Food was the common theme for a pair of Wasilla residents, 23-year-old Courtney Johnson and 22-year-old Kindall Rumbo.


They arrived late in the morning with plans of making a day of it before the evening’s main stage entertainment, folk band Caamp.

“We’re really here for the food,” Johnson said. “Last year was the first year they did those Dutch pancakes. We’re probably going to do that.”

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.