FAIRMONT - Donna Hillestad isn't counting the years, but just knows entering her many crafts at the Martin County Fair has become a habit.
"Every year, I say, this is the last year," she said. "But then I end up entering things again."
Her knitting, embroidery, and counter cross-stitching type crafts have earned her more than a thousand ribbons.
50 YEARS?AND?COUNTING — Donna Hillestad of Fairmont shows some of the tablecloths she made and entered in the Martin County Fair in the past. This year marks the 50th year Hillestad has entered items at the Martin County Fair. (By Jennifer Brookens)
"It's 1,760," she said as she looks at the list broken down into 74 grand champions, 46 reserve champions, 925 blue ribbons, 606 red ribbons and 109 white ribbons. "They used to have really nice ribbons they awarded, too."
Hillestad recalls that the first time she entered items in the fair was the last year the fairgrounds were located at where the Five Lakes Centre is today.
"I was talking to some friends, and they saw the stuff I made, and they encouraged me to enter it in the fair," she said. "I said, 'Oh no, my stuff isn't good enough.' But I entered three things, and I got two blue ribbons and a red. That started it."
Hillestad always seems to have some craft she is in the process of making.
"I gotta be doing something all the time," she said. "I do lots of knitting, embroidery and needlepoint, counter cross-stitch, the things where you can do two things at once, so you're not sitting there just glued to the TV."
Looking around Hillestad's home also shows evidence of her busy hands.
"I made this afghan, those two pillows," she said, motioning to the decor throughout her living room. "All my children and grandchildren have afghans, and my godchild."
For Hillestad, entry day comes twice a year.
"I winter down in Florida and I enter in the Women's Club there," she said. "I entered something that went all the way to state and it got the best in show. I have that entered at the fair here now, and it will be interesting to see how well it does here. It's the only thing I've ever gotten a 'Best in Show,'
"It's interesting to see when I enter something in Florida and here, and I'll get a second place there and first place here. I guess it all depends on what the judges like," she said.
Another item that stands out in Hillestad's collection is the Norwegian sweaters she made 20 years ago.
"At the time, we belonged to Friendship Forest, and we stayed with a family in Norway, and they translated the Norwegian pattern to English for me," she said.
Hillestad also enters some photography exhibits from time to time.
"I love to travel," she said. "If I could, I would do nothing but travel. I love traveling and I take thousands of pictures and sometimes I get one enlarged and take it to the fair."
Another unusual twist for Hillestad is she doesn't learn what she got for her items until after the fair.
"It's either rainy and muddy or hot and humid when I go out to the fair, so I don't go out there," she admits. "So when I pick it up, I'll see what I got. Now that I realize it's my 50th year, it might be a good time to hang it up. But we'll see."