Mechanicsville native J. Elwood Cusic has never missed a St. Mary's County Fair.

The 87-year-old has been coming since the fair opened in 1947, then only a cluster of tents and livestock. For the past few days at the fair, which runs through 6 p.m. today, he has been sitting amid the bleats and moans of hundreds of cattle, sheep and goats, watching his five entries thump their tails against the straw-littered floor of the shelter he once helped to build.

The fair has become a Cusic family tradition. "He competes with his great-grandchildren," said Cusic's granddaughter Susie Hall, 39. Hall, joined by two sisters and their children, readied the family's goats for showing, with 5-year-old Lindsay pushing a swab into her goat's other end.

"She's cleaning," said Hall's sister Cindy Spaulding, laughing.

With the St. Mary's County Fair organized and operated by unpaid volunteers, the annual event becomes a family affair for many county residents, fair President John Richards said.

"It's a hobby out of control," Richards said of himself and his wife. "We started showing some sheep, and next thing you know we're running the whole thing." This year that whole thing encompasses 25 carnival rides, countless animals and about 6,000 exhibits of crafts and collections as varied as flower arrangements and knitted blankets.

Cusic, who used to tell family members that he wanted to live to see his eight grandchildren work at the fair, now has eight great-grandchildren who help him with the animals or compete with their entries. He has even named one of his cows after his "lady friend."

"We grew up here at these fairs," said granddaughter Cindy Spaulding.

"It's passed down generation to generation," Hall said of the love for the fair.

As children, Spaulding and Hall climbed onto each fair's biggest bull. Now, they watch their children continue the tradition.

They agree it has all come from Cusic's influence. His great-granddaughter Tiffany Hall, 17, helped him groom his animals when she was a child. Now she wants to be a veterinarian "because he got me into the whole cow thing."

"That's the purpose of the fair," Cusic said, "to bring agriculture to younger people."

Smiling from under his red "St. Mary's County Fair" cap, he said the fair is becoming even more important today as more people move into St. Mary's who aren't familiar with the county's farming traditions.

"We'd like to get more people involved in agriculture," he said. Until this fair, Cusic said, he served as the fair's vice president for nearly 21 years.

He also helped build many of the buildings on the fairgrounds and organized this year's entertainment.

Cusic was born to farmers in Mechanicsville in a house with a dirt floor, he said. For many years, he helped manage a farm until it was sold in 1990. He still works on his 16-acre farm.

"I have something to get up for in the morning," he said, which is better than what he called the "boob tube."

When he was younger, Cusic would travel by boxcar as far as Chicago to see other fairs and to bring back what he learned to the fair in St. Mary's County.

"Nobody would believe that when Pearl Harbor happened, I didn't know for three days because I was on the rails with the cattle," he said, laughing.

Although he can't see as well as he once did, his grandchildren say he'll keep coming to the county fair.

"This is his life now," Hall said. "It's what keeps him going."

Sweet potatoes grown by T.W. Buckler win a first-place blue ribbon at the 58th St. Mary's County Fair in Leonardtown, which concludes today.Chaptico Chargers 4-H Club member Amanda Goddard works to get "Buddy," her Suffolk market lamb, looking his best for a showing in one of the many contests.J. Elwood Cusic, 87, says the purpose of fairs is "to bring agriculture to younger people," such as his great-grandchildren. A native of Mechanicsville, he has come to the St. Mary's County Fair since it opened in 1947.