PAULDING — Even a tradition going back over 70 years can receive a new, if unwelcome, spin, and such was the case with this year’s longstanding tradition of the Paulding County Fair bean soup supper.
The supper is a fair veterans’ day staple, but the homemade bean soup with ham and thick slices of cornbread could be enjoyed by anyone whether a vet or not. Longtime Paulding County fair board member Lonnie Miller went through the crowd, passing small American flags to vets before settling down to enjoy his own supper.
But while the soup and cornbread were as welcome as ever, the weather outside was frightful. Decidedly untraditional for a time of year known for summer showers (if that), the weather made itself known in the form of heavy winds and torrential downpours of cold rain, making the soup even more welcome for those inside (and adding unexpected atmosphere, most notably in the form of rain loudly pelting the roof).
One longtime face in the crowd belonged to Phil Hanenkratt, commander of VFW Post 587, who looks like a man barely into his 70s but announces his age of 84 with a steady voice and firm handshake. “I may be the oldest one here,” he quipped, looking briefly around the room before speaking.
The bean soup supper has been a part of the fair ever since World War II, Hanenkratt said, and has remained constant ever since.
In fact, he said, the biggest changes to the supper isn’t the bill of fare — it’s those who eat it.
With time continually marching on, the old guard passes on and the new group takes its place. “Faces change,” he said. “There are very few World War II veterans left (here); I don’t know exactly how many. We don’t have any that show up here.”
Hanenkratt joined the armed services in the 1950s, serving in Fort Knox in Kentucky, Fort Carson in Colorado and Fort Lewis in Washington state. “I boarded a ship to Korea then.”
Hanenkratt spent eight months in Korea from December 1955 to July 1956, missing the Korean Conflict, which ended in 1953. Although the war was over, “there were still troops on the line,” he said. “They’re not there now. I never saw any combat; I’m glad.”
Hanenkratt winters in Florida, where he takes part in a winter softball team. “I played 50-some games last year,” he said.
He still thinks of himself as a Paulding County man and looks forward to veterans’ day at the fair every year, although he is concerned about the numbers. “All I know is that there used to be more veterans,” he said.
He foresees no significant changes in the future of the bean soup supper and looks to his fellow attendees as a reason to come back each year. “We’re our own entertainment,” he said. “That’s all we have (here).”