Lakefair a community icon that’s quietly changing

In just a few days, the 56th annual staging of Capital Lakefair will take over Heritage Park and draw more than 200,000 people during its five-day run. Teenagers will kiss at the top of the Ferris wheel, kids will overeat and everybody will have some summer fun, just as local families have done for more than a half-century.

To most who partake in this iconic summer celebration, it will look like the same Lakefair started by a group of passionate citizens in 1957.

But to the close observer, this is not the same old Lakefair. The changes might be subtle, but they hint at the slow transformation of Lakefair from its post-World War II roots into modernity.

The organizers are still called Capitaliarians (say that three times fast after eating an elephant ear) and they still wear those bright blue blazers. Most of them range in age from 65 to 89-plus. They still crown a Lakefair Queen among many princesses who ride a special float in 15 or so parades around the state.

Breaking five decades of tradition isn’t easy, but new, younger Capitaliarians have brought the enthusiasm for positive change. The Lakefair Queen was chosen in February this year, instead of during the festival, so the 2013 royal court could travel more than 6,000 miles to participate in communities with similar programs.

Instead of a coronation on Thursday, July 18, this year, the 2012 court of queen and princesses will share memories of the past year and perform a skit to represent their experiences. They will also make two other public appearances on July 17 and 18 to meet the public, and perhaps inspire or captivate young children.

The queen and princesses might seem out of step with social mores in uber-liberal Olympia, but the program provides $20,000 toward the young women’s higher-education goals.

The Capitaliarians secured additional sponsorships to expand this year’s fireworks show in length of time and the quantity and quality of shells. They’ve added three new-to-the-South Sound rides.

And, for just the fourth time, the Olympia Downtown Association will hold a summer sidewalk sale to lure visitors to the city’s unique shops and charm of downtown.

The popular food booths by about two dozen community service nonprofits will return. For some, Lakefair represents their primary source of funding. Altrusa will again offer elephant ears. Thurston County Democrats will cook up Demo and garden burgers while the Republicans will serve up hotdogs and garlic fries.

It’s fitting, but maybe not a huge step forward, that the 50-plus Senior Day features a performance by an Elvis impersonator.

These are big changes for an organization steeped in tradition, and whose membership has dwindled recently after so many years of service. New members are driving change, and we applaud their efforts.

Lakefair isn’t just fun, it’s an important local economic driver during the dog days of summer. So, take time to support the nonprofits and enjoy the fireworks. And appreciate the momentum to sustain a piece of South Sound history.