The resiliency of the Malheur County Fair echoes that of the people of the community. Knocked back by the winter of 2017, the fair operation shook off misfortune, dug in, and got back to business. That was plenty evident at this year’s run.
In the depths of that winter, many had to wonder how the fairgrounds would recover. Buildings were crushed, destroyed by the brutal weight of unusual snow loads. Other structures were severely damaged. This year, there was no sign of that damage.
New structures, some finished just in the nick of time, give the fairgrounds a fresh look. Animals and exhibitors both are no doubt grateful for the astute decisions made by the Malheur County Fair Board and Fair Manager Lynelle Christiani that were faithful to the community’s deep interest in its fair.
Of course, a county fair is all about that community. This is show time for competitors, artisans, and even the cooks in the food booths. Kids from every corner of the county showed up to demonstrate what they’ve been learning in the past months and years.
Walk through the livestock area to see that. Watching a teen focused intently on grooming a cow is a marvel. The patience of both person and animal can be enchanting, as tails get carefully untangled and flanks are brushed, cleaned and shined. This is industry on such an individual level and it makes an observer wonder where that teen will be in the years ahead.
This year’s fair was notable for the number of steers entered. That says a lot about the resiliency of the county’s cattle industry – and prospects for succession in ranch management and ownership. One wonders, for instance, what lies ahead for Katy Stoddart of Jordan Valley, who had the champion commercial steer this year. And the heifer program run by the Malheur County Cattlemen’s Association continues to strengthen. This year’s fair run had many highlights, but one was recognizing two alumni, Morgan King of Vale and Sundee Speelmon of Adrian. They both donated heifers back to the program, a generous act that shows this is as much about character as it is about beef.
There were, of course, champions all over the fairgrounds. Kylee Jager, representing the Harper FFA, took top honors with a gorgeous wooden desk. The project took about 20 hours. The 4-H kids provided their entertaining and educational exhibits. Who doesn’t want to know more about greasy pig disease?
And adults took home ribbons, too. Janet Kyniston of Ontario was the judge’s choice in the open class competition – competition open to all comers. Kyniston did a picture of a cottage that appeared to take tremendous patience and an eye for color. Phyllis Voigt of Fruitland won “Best of Show” for her black, white and gold quilt.
The hot weather, as always, proved a challenge. But, as one observer noted, “It’s fair time. What do you expect?” Perhaps a few strategically placed misters would provide a few moments of respite for fair goers.
And the hot weather may explain why the carnival rides didn’t seem busy. Fair officials worked hard to bring back the rides, responding to community requests. But on one afternoon, most of the rides stood empty, their operators hovering in shade, watchful for even one potential customer. It will be up to fairgoers, not fair executives, to determine whether the carnival remains a feature. If you went and didn’t ride, let the fair folks know why. If you have other ideas about how to get that Ferris wheel spinning with a load, speak out.
Overall, the Malheur County Fair again proved itself a wonderful gathering place. People could largely check their worries at the gate – except for the one about being on time for the showmanship competitions and watching a neighbor’s kid make that sheep mind. The fair board and staff always welcome reviews and comments about what people liked and what could change. For this season, though, they get their own blue ribbon for a job well done. – LZ