County Fair Memories

015 Barnyard Olympics winners, photo courtesy of Kendra Moreland

Story by Suzette Dragoo Barta

County fair time has become a tradition for my kids and me. This year’s Payne County Fair will take place on August 23-27.

Our fair traditions may not be the same as other families, but then again, our county’s fair is not exactly the same as others around the state. Different people, different venues, different activities all serve to create a unique experience for the fair-goer, but there is a common denominator. Fair time is the stuff from which old-fashioned family memories are made. Here are a few of mine.

My kids did not participate in 4-H, and did not show animals in FFA, so the livestock shows were not a part of our family’s tradition. For other families, showing livestock is what they remember most about the county fair. My youngest son’s best friend shows sheep, so we definitely stay aware of what is happening in the show ring. According to Payne County’s 4-H Educator, Summer Leister, there are about 275 kids that show animals at the Payne County Fair each year—either through 4-H or FFA.

Not being involved with animals, my kids have always looked forward to the carnival portion of the fair. Many years, we would be there at 5:30pm on Wednesday evening, standing in the hot August sun, waiting for the ticket booth to open at 6pm. Most people, including us, opt to buy the bracelets that let you ride all the rides you want for the evening. Plus, by being there so early, you don’t have to wait in long lines to ride the most popular rides—monkey cages, hand-glider, and tilt-a-whirl.

It never did take long for the kids to find their best friends at the carnival. Some would come out of the livestock arena to meet up with their buddies and to ride the rides.  Once my own kids were old enough, I would leave them to run around with their friends while I went to the exhibit hall. Cell phones have made it nice to be able to keep up with everyone’s location. They sure didn’t have that luxury at the first Payne County Fair—102 years ago.

I have always enjoyed strolling through the exhibit hall at the fair. Over the years I have often entered items in the fair. Entries are judged during the day on Wednesday of fair week, so when the exhibit halls open at 6pm on Wednesday, entries are already sporting their ribbons.

PerrySHoesI’ve only won a blue ribbon once. That was the year I was painting white sneakers—mostly in school colors with school logos. This particular pair was in honor of my daughter’s friend who went to Perry High School. Yes, my Perry “Maroons” painted shoes won first place!

This year I have been doing a bit of crocheting, so I plan to enter my snowflake-themed afghan. Tuesday of fair week is always entry day, and volunteers will be at the exhibit hall from 8am to 7pm accepting fair entries. I’ll probably get there early to submit my afghan. I don’t know if I’ll win anything with it. There is some stiff competition in that division, but you can be sure that I will make my way to the exhibit hall Wednesday evening to find out.

One year, I ran into my parents in the exhibit hall. Mom had just learned that her jar of green beans had won the blue ribbon and the Ball Canning award. She was in an HCE (Home and Community Education) club that year, so her green beans helped garner some points for her club relative to the others. There are 7 HCE clubs in Payne County—managed through the Payne County Extension office.

The Payne County HCE clubs are highly involved in the fair each year. Not only do they enter their food preservation, sewing, and flower projects, but they also run what may be the most important part of the fair—the concession stand. The HCE volunteers are there each night serving up hot meals and, of course, pie.

Pie at the fair has become a tradition in Payne County. Even if you choose to eat corn dogs or chicken-on-a-stick at the carnival, you just have to save room for a piece of homemade pie. Personally, my favorite is coconut cream pie.  So after I’ve walked through the exhibit hall, I make my way to the concession stand to buy a piece of coconut pie. I almost always find someone I know to sit and visit with while I partake.

More on the pie—did you know that every pie is homemade by HCE club members? According to Pat Kerns, fair kitchen committee chair, proceeds from sales at the fair kitchen help fund the philanthropic efforts of the OHCE clubs, including scholarships for 2 high school seniors each year and 4-H youth activities throughout the year.

Of course, everyone’s experience at the county fair is different. Maybe your family enjoys attending the “Fairest of the Fair” competition on opening Saturday, or maybe your kids like to enter their pets in Wednesday night’s Pet Parade and then hang around to compete in the Barnyard Olympics. Some families really enjoy the draft horse pulling competition on Thursday night and the tractor pull on Friday night.

To find a listing of the many events taking place at this year’s 102nd Payne County Fair, pick up a fair guide at the Payne County Extension office or the fairgrounds office. The fair guide is also online on the Expo Center’s website:

Here are a few of the most important dates and times to remember for the 2016 Payne County Fair:

  • Tuesday August 23, 8am to 7pm:  Exhibit entry day.
  • Wednesday August 25 through Saturday August 27: Exhibit hall opens 6pm to 10pm and carnival opens 6pm to 10pm.
  • Thursday August 25: Plant and flower entries due, 8:30am to 11:30am; Draft Horse Pull at 8pm.
  • Friday August 26: Cattle fitting contest at 4:30pm; Tractor Pull at 7pm.
  • Saturday August 27: Baked goods entries due 1pm to 1:45pm.
  • Sunday August 28: Carnival opens 6pm to 10pm.

I encourage you to get out and make some family memories at this year’s fair. Who knows? Maybe we’ll wait in line together for coconut pie.