FAIRLEA, W.Va. -- In his 89 years, Alvin Porterfield has only missed one West Virginia State Fair -- and that's only because he was out of the country.
"We were overseas that summer on a trip," the Monroe County resident said.
Heading to the fair is a family tradition, he said.
"My parents took me for the first time when I was just 2 weeks old. I don't remember that one much," he said with a hearty laugh.
The 2011 State Fair kicked off in Fairlea on Friday, after almost a full year of planning -- and organizers of the Greenbrier County event already have a huge folder of notes of improvements, additions and ideas for next year's fair.
"The working and planning never really stops," said Marlene Pierson-Jolliffe, who manages the State Fair. "The minute the fair is over and we do the wrap-up and start looking at numbers, it's very quick. We go into early fall with some serious planning."
The fairgrounds span 200 acres and host 51 different structures that showcase anything from arts and crafts to livestock and West Virginia food -- and this year, an educational alligator show called "Kachunga."
The Kachunga team, from Florida, travels the country with alligators and shares information and dispels myths about the often-misunderstood creatures.
"They can be real fast if they want to," said alligator expert Bert Lucas. The men, who get in the water with 8- or 9-foot alligators that weigh hundreds of pounds, try to put on an entertaining yet educational show for the audience -- including putting their hand in the gators' mouths.
"You've got about an eighth of a second to get your hand out when that jaw starts to snap shut," Lucas said.
This is the first time the show has come to West Virginia, and Pierson-Jolliffe expects it to be a hit.
"We've gotten really excited about it," she said.
Pierson-Jolliffe said that, although the shows and events bring the crowds, the fair would never open if it were not for all of the volunteers -- especially ones like Porterfield, who has been judging local eggs submitted to the fair for the past 30 years.
Porterfield said he got involved with eggs after teaching agriculture in Lewisburg.
"I know all about the eggs," he said.
Before he judged eggs, Porterfield was the assistant superintendent of the general livestock show. After retiring from teaching, though, he passed the reigns to someone else.
"We've been fairgoers forever, you might as well say," he said. And Porterfield isn't the only family member that's made the State Fair part of an annual tradition.
His wife and a daughter work at the flower exhibit. His second daughter used to work with the entries, but decided it was too much work in addition to full-time teaching. His grandchildren have volunteered at the fair, too.
"We have always worked in this as a family," Porterfield said. "We volunteer here to help them set up and take down, and we stay for the entertainment and see the fair.
"It's just kind of a tradition with us," he said -- a tradition that hasn't gone unnoticed by other volunteers.
"Oh, he's legendary," one State Fair volunteer said. "Everyone here knows Mr. Porterfield."
Porterfield said he'd keep coming to the fair every year if just to see the crowds.