Puyallup: News

Steady hand of Washington State Fair continues multi-generational legacy

Denny Elvins, a third-generation Washington State Fair board member, stands in his Puyallup office last week surrounded by career- and fair-related photos and keepsakes.
Denny Elvins, a third-generation Washington State Fair board member, stands in his Puyallup office last week surrounded by career- and fair-related photos and keepsakes. Staff photographer

For three generations, the Elvins family has served on the Washington State Fair board. Continuing that tradition for the last 27 years, Denny Elvins is still giving tirelessly to the organization.

“It’s a family tradition,” Elvins said.

The generational tie is what keeps the tradition of the annual Puyallup event going year after year.

“The generation connection of Denny and other multi-generational board members provides a strong sense to leave the fair better than when you were involved,” Washington State Fair CEO Kent Hojem said. “There’s a stronger desire to make sure there’s relevancy, and a greater sense of what’s important to ensure the future of the fair. It lends to the strength of continuity, a sense of ownership, and wanting to continue the fair tradition.”

Born in 1934, Elvins quips that he is as old as the Fair’s legendary wooden roller coaster.

The 80-year-old was born and raised in Puyallup, and took over his father’s business, Elvins Department Store, in 1957. Elvins has since closed the stores, but the Elvins name is still displayed proudly on the building at 108 N. Meridian in downtown.

Once the Puyallup native closed all of the Elvins stores in 1991, he went into commercial real estate, where he still works today.

Since Elvins began continuing his family’s legacy in 1988, the Fair has spent in excess of $50 million to improve the Puyallup tradition for generations to come.

The Washington State Fair is engrained in Elvins: He’s served twice as Fair president, in 1997 and 2006.

Most would think after nearly 30 years of giving back to his community through his time on the Fair board Elvins would be tired, but he gets excited year after year for the staple of the Puyallup community.

“I love the food, of course,” he said. “But seeing the kids and young families have fun is the biggest thrill for me.”

The Fair has become a huge part of Elvins and wife Patti’s lives.

“It’s a part of our social life,” Elvins said.

Elvins has been involved in nearly every area of the Fair, from real estate acquisition to planning entertainment, but Hojem most appreciates his knowledge of the Puyallup Valley.

“His knowledge of recent history of the Puyallup Valley is impressive,” the Fair CEO said. “He knows a lot of people and the background of situations.”

Additionally, Hojem says that Elvins’ strong sense of integrity is truly admirable.

“He’s a steady hand on the tiller that is the Washington State Fair,” Hojem said.

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