If you’ve passed through the Red or Blue gates during any Puyallup Fair over the past four decades, you might have encountered her.
She has a bright smile and a friendly demeanor, which she puts to use as one of the fair’s most tenured gate ticket sellers.
Kathryn Kiser has never been late for a shift. And the Puyallup woman says she has enjoyed just about every minute.
“That’s why I’ve been back for 44 years,” she said Wednesday, taking a short break from a shift working the Blue Gate.
Kiser, 85, joined the fair work force in 1969. She accompanied a friend to apply for a job and wound up with one herself. For the first few years she worked part time, on weekends.
She eventually started taking vacation from her full-time job – she was a payroll clerk for a wholesale Christmas tree company – to work the entire fair run. This year’s fair started Friday and runs through Sept. 23.
Over the decades, Kiser has watched the fair expand its footprint and reach.
Land and buildings were added, and so were rides and vendors.
Kiser’s life has changed, too, with the fair seasons. She was a mother of three teenagers when she hired on. Now she has five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
She missed the Spring Fair in April this year – another event she usually works – because her husband, Robert Docherty, was ailing. He recently entered an assisted-living facility – another transition in Kiser’s life.
She said she tries to maintain a positive attitude and look on the bright side of things. That’s her life philosophy.
Supervisor Irene Cressio described Kiser as kind and pleasant to work with.
Some fair workers have logged even more years on the grounds. Annie Gale, 80, of Puyallup, superintendent of the gate and parking ticket sellers, is celebrating her 50th fair anniversary.
The former bank executive said she fell into her work at the fairgrounds, and now she’s hooked. She makes time to visit the draft horses and stop by the Showplex, she said. Sometimes she’ll watch the children enjoying the games.
Kiser loves the Hobby Hall.
She said she looks forward to fair time, the hustle and bustle. She has so many memories.
There was the day – her first-ever shift – when she checked out her till at lunch and was $2,000 short.
“I thought to myself, ‘Kathryn, you can’t be $2,000 short,’” she recalled Wednesday.
It turns out she wasn’t; it was just a math error. But it was a heart-stopping moment, she said.
Another time, she didn’t hook her money box correctly and spilled currency on the floor.
“It happened to me only one time,” she said with a chuckle. She’d learned her lesson.
She also made good friends at the ticket booths. That’s what draws her back, she said.
“Every year I’ve had a new friend. I’ve (made) a lot of friends through the years,” she said.
This year, she also has made a goal.
Kiser said she wants to work one more fair, rounding out 45 years at the gates.