Angelica Relente / Puyallup Herald
There are several reasons why Kent Hojem gravitated toward working at the Washington State Fair. His best friend’s father is one of them.
“His father was a fair manager at the Southwest Washington Fair. I showed cows at the fair,” Hojem said. “There’s something about fairs — if you’re around them for a while it gets in your blood.”
Hojem is the chief executive officer for the Washington State Fair. On March 15, he announced his plan to retire by the end of 2022. He started working at the fair in March 1996 and has been the CEO since January 2005.
Hojem oversees the entirety of the fair. He and other staff plan events at the fairgrounds, such as the State Fair in September and Holiday Magic in December. At the same time, he is the secretary for the Washington State Fair Foundation.
Before becoming the CEO, Hojem was the assistant fair manager. He oversaw aspects of the State Fair such as maintenance, construction and security, he said. Before joining the State Fair, he was the fair manager of the Thurston County Fair.
“Fairs are always, in my experience, part of the fabric of a community,” Hojem said. “I think they sort of sneak into everybody’s life for a little while and sometimes you just catch it, and it never lets you go.”
One of Hojem’s major accomplishments during his time at the State Fair was debuting the ShowPlex at the fairgrounds. Expanding SillyVille and incorporating The Farm at SillyVille are other accomplishments on his list, he said.
“The thing I’m most proud of … is the friendships that I’ve made in the years that I’ve been here,” Hojem said.
A service that Hojem wished he was able to continue at the fairgrounds was “fair school,” during which children could visit the fair for a day and learn about animals and agriculture in a classroom-like setting.
The service was discontinued, but the State Fair reworked the concept to offer its Traveling Farm instead. The Traveling Farm offers schoolchildren access to a trailer where they can learn about agriculture through hands-on experience.
During his time at the State Fair, Hojem said there’s been an “interesting balance” between keeping up with current trends and maintaining tradition. His goal as the CEO was to incorporate a bit of history as the fair progressed, he said.
“You’re always changing a little bit,” Hojem said. “If you’re standing still, you’re going backward.”
Aside from the State Fair, Hojem also wore different hats in the community. He is a past president of the Puyallup-Sumner Chamber of Commerce as well as the Puyallup Main Street Association, among other things.
“He’s all about whatever is going to benefit the community,” PMSA Executive Director Kerry Yanasak said.
Mayor Dean Johnson wrote in an email that Hojem’s leadership skills “truly came on display” in 2020 when the State Fair had to cancel its month-long fair in September. In 2021, Hojem was able to bring it back “stronger than ever,” Johnson wrote.
“Kent has been an active volunteer within the community and has served on various nonprofit boards and committees, including our Lodging Tax Advisory Committee,” Johnson wrote. “Kent is a fine example of a consummate professional and passionate community member of Puyallup.”
Hojem was raised on a farm near Chehalis and moved to Puyallup about 20 years ago. He studied mathematical sciences at Stanford University. He saw himself working in the aerospace industry after college, but working at fairs was the path he grew to love, he said.
“For everybody, life takes some weird turns,” Hojem said.
State Fair leaders don’t know yet who the new CEO will be.