Bob and Barb Wells started making repurposed furniture three years ago.
The Walworth County Fair introduced a competition that year, and the couple began recycling used items and turning them into new objects.
This year, they made more than 20 repurposed pieces, from a rolling stand to a lamp assembled from old pots and pans. They collect discarded material “wherever we can find it,” Bob said.
Bob’s submission—a bench made from wooden pallets and a used headboard—won the grand championship in the Repurposed and Recycled category.
The Wellses were among several people competing in the home economics judging Friday at North Hall on the Walworth County Fairgrounds in Elkhorn.
The home economics judging includes a quilting competition. This year, 74 quilts were submitted across 48 categories.
Jodi Swatek, home economics superintendent, said Walworth County’s quilting competition is abnormally large—particularly for a county fair.
Many quilts go on to compete in national shows, she said. The fair welcomes submissions from both adults and kids in Walworth and surrounding counties, including those in Illinois.
Sharon Yanz has submitted quilts since she retired 15 years ago. This year, one of them won the grand prize in the Sawdust and Stitches Combo Challenge at the fair.
“You start out with an idea. It helps if you have a pattern, which I did for this one,” Yanz said. “And I learned after 25 or so years of making quilts: Take your time cutting it and stitch it slow ... and it comes out perfect. And that translates to a first-place winner.”
Lori Hintz of Burlington entered 12 quilts this year, and her submission in the Fabric Collage category won first place. She said the home economics competition makes the fair worth attending.
“There’s a whole group of my friends and I, we just walk through our house and pick up stuff and submit it, “ Hintz said. “Then we come and see how we did.”
While showing off her recycled pieces, Barb Wells, 77, pointed to a wooden frame with pictures of two smiling adults.
“This is in memory of our two kids,” she said, her voice cracking.
For the Wellses, the Walworth County Fair is a tradition. Although they now live in Portage, 80-year-old Bob used to operate a farm in Walworth, and their family has participated in 4-H “forever,” they said.
Two of their children, Gene Wells and Tammy Botlz, died years ago from health complications. Both grew up at the Walworth County Fair, and their photos now gaze down on their parents’ fair projects.
“They loved the fair. We miss them dearly,” Barb said.