Seniors & Aging

He started by showing cows; now he’s in the Northwest Washington Fair board room

Deane Sandell, 72, a retired Whatcom County undersheriff and member of the Northwest Washington Fair Board of Directors, says some of his favorite times as a kid who grew up on a daily farm were at the fair.
Deane Sandell, 72, a retired Whatcom County undersheriff and member of the Northwest Washington Fair Board of Directors, says some of his favorite times as a kid who grew up on a daily farm were at the fair.

While well-known for his 34-year career with the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, Deane Sandell has had close ties to the Northwest Washington Fair over the decades.

As a boy growing up just north of Bellingham, Sandell and his father showed their registered Guernseys at the fair in Lynden and elsewhere. And while still working in law enforcement, Sandell joined the fair’s board of directors and remains one of its longest-serving members.

“I”m the only Bellingham resident who’s ever been on the board,” says Sandell, 72. “I’m an honorary Lyndenite, in some people’s minds.”

City student, farm boy

Sandell’s father, Floyd Sandell, taught vocational agriculture and was FFA advisor at Bellingham High School. Sandell grew up on his parents’ 10-acre farm off of Bakerview Road. In 1960, his parents bought acreage at Bakerview and Hannegan roads, where their farm grew to 80 acres and more than 100 Guernseys.

“I worked every day on the farm, before and after school,” Sandell says.

His father eventually sold the herd, but later went into business with his son, bringing in Holstein heifers from the Midwest to repopulate local dairy herds.

Sandell went to Washington State University with the idea of studying dairy science, but he focused more on fun than on his studies, so he returned home, married and worked assorted jobs before enrolling at Western Washington University with the idea of going to law school.

As a married college student with two young children, Sandell needed a night job to earn money while he attended Western. He became a night-shift corrections officer at the county jail, then on the top floor of the County Courthouse. Just 23, he was the only jailer at night and also handled dispatch calls.

Sandell kept the jail job for about two and a half years, then jumped at the chance to become a sheriff’s deputy on night patrol. By the time he graduated with Western in 1973 with a degree in political science, Sandell had settled on a career in law enforcement instead of law school.

Sandell next became a sergeant, then chief criminal deputy in 1982, and undersheriff in 1996. He retired in 2003 as the longest-serving Sheriff's Office employee in memory.

Fair board member

Upon his retirement, colleagues described Sandell as thorough and creative working on criminal cases, and as a demanding and businesslike administrator, but with a sense of humor.

Those attributes would serve him well as a board member for Northwest Washington Fair. The fair has 12 board members elected for three-year terms.

A departing board member suggested to Sandell that he run for the board. Sandell reflected on his experience showing Guernseys at the fair and decided to run, winning a seat in 1991.

“I thought it would be a nice way to repay the enjoyment I got out of the fair,” he says.

Sandell has served two stretches as board president. During one stint, the board adopted a major change of focus, shifting from a hands-on approach running the fair to a “policy governance” approach, in which the board sets policies and ensures the fair manager carries them out.

During Sandell’s tenure, the fair has added several major buildings and started a foundation to raise money for scholarships and capital improvements.

During fair, the board meets every morning to review how it’s going.

Sandell doesn’t show livestock any more. Instead, he walks the grounds, greeting fairgoers and answering questions. His connection to the fair has come full circle.

“Some of my favorite times as a kid were at the fair,” Sandell says.

2017 Northwest Washington Fair

When: Monday, Aug. 14, through Saturday, Aug. 19

Where: 1775 Front St., Lynden

Gate hours: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Vendor booths: open at 10 a.m.

Carnival: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Admission: Adults, $13; seniors, 62 and older, $11; youth, 6-12, $8; children 5 and younger, free

Details: 360-354-4111,