A look at how this year’s Malheur County Fair went – after a year off

Three 4-H members show their cows at the Malheur County Fair on Friday, July 30, 2021. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

ONTARIO – A simple black-and-white sign with a green frame advertises a Malheur County Fair exclusive: scones, the way Linda Erlebach’s mom used to make.

The booth, located at the far corner of the fair among the vendors, has a distinctly doughy smell.

Erlebach’s mother started the stand as a fundraiser for the St. Paul Lutheran Church in Ontario, and now her grandkids are helping run the popular food spot. Erlebach recalled kneading dough with her son strapped to her back 27 years ago.

On Friday afternoon, they were still waiting for the evening rush to come.

“It’s been slow, and hot, and that makes the dough rise fast,” Erlebach said.

To illustrate her point, a few moments later she turned to the back counter to punch the dough down into its bowl, which had escaped from the lid and spilled from the sides. Debbie Pallis, helping run the stand, said the dough had crawled up the side of her car seat the day before.

Despite the heat, the family-run stand was selling scones – which Erlebach admitted were closer to fry-bread – like hot cakes.

St. Paul Lutheran Church’s “heavenly scones” are a Malheur County Fair staple. One guest said, “you’re lucky to get one before they’re all gone,” at the fair on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

The Malheur County Fair ended Saturday, Aug. 31, after a five-day run. The event brought Malheur County back together after Covid safety precautions canceled last year’s event.

At the center of the fairgrounds, the Red Barn hosted kids crafts such as bird houses and Lego creations, as well as artists’ submissions of wooden bowls and metal sculptures. Home-grown award-winning vegetables, like Brogan Payne’s baseball-sized champion sugar beet, lined the metal shelves.

Some entries had succumbed to the heat, including the prize cakes, sitting collapsed and dripping inside the refrigerator.

In the back corner, submitted photographs captured life in Malheur County from beloved pets to weddings to unruly grandkids fighting on grandpa’s lap.

Keeping watch on one end was the blue-ribbon scarecrow wearing a safety jacket. On the other was Rita Piercy, superintendent of the craft department.

Piercy became involved in the fair in 2009, when her phone rang with a request to fill in for a craft judge. It was only 30 minutes before the event.

Over a decade later, Piercy said she gets a lot of joy seeing the submissions. Of her favorites this year was a white machine-embroidered lace piece that she said she would love to pair with a black dress.

Piercy herself submitted a diamond artwork, which is like a paint-by-numbers with little gems, of a patriotic themed rose. She beamed as she described the process.

“I go into my happy place,” Piercy said.

Adin Stowell repels down after a successful climb to the top of the rock wall at the Malheur County Fair and Rodeo on Wednesday, July 28. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)

Next to the barn was a symphony of giggles, thuds of missed dunk-tank throws and the constant squeaking of metal rides.

One boy gripped the sides of the dunk tank seats, but became more relaxed as his friends continually hit the tarp instead of the target. Soon enough, though, a bullseye plunged him into the water. Nearby, kids raced up the rock wall and rolled down inflatable slides, sometimes needing encouragement from their parents.

One ride had a swing that had the ability to flip upside-down, if its two young riders wished to crank the wheel between them.

Jacob Pitcher, a junior at Ridgevue High School in Nampa working for the ride vendor, took the opportunity to dive into his paperback book while waiting for customers.

“It’s great,” Pitcher said. “I get to read.”

His reading was interrupted by a group of boys asking him to start up the mechanical bull, the most popular ride for kids and cowboys alike.

Nearby, barns featured FFA and 4H cows laying down in hay and swatting flies with their tails. They were auctioned off on Saturday.

Kelsie White, the beef superintendent at Jordan Valley FFA, said that she was proud of the competitors.

“It’s been so nice seeing kids coming off the Covid year here,” White said. “They’ve worked their tails off.”

She said this year’s fair saw 67 market steers that had been raised by youth.

“We’re here for the kids, and to support the kids,” White said. “They are the future leaders in agriculture.”

Hunter Porter talks about his horse, Bo at the Malheur County Fair on Friday, July 30, 2021. (ANGELINA KATSANIS/The Enterprise)

At the opposite end of the fair, where the sound of the band warming up became distant background noise, 12-year-old Hunter Porter ran his palomino, Bo, near the 4H horse barns.

The pair has worked together for four years, and before that Bo belonged to Porter’s sister.

“He’s really bonded with me,” Porter said, stroking Bo’s hay-stained muzzle. The horse sneezed, sending a cool spray of snot that made Porter laugh. “He’s getting old, but he does awesome for me.”

Porter competed in the ranch horse cow work, working ranch and roping categories this weekend. He expertly described the measurements of Bo’s back and features that judges would look for in an American Quarter Horse.

The 6th grader said he was excited to work with Bo this weekend, and in future 4H events.

“I like to have fun with it,” Porter said. “It’s a memory that will always stick with us.”

Friday evening, the sun went down and stage lights brightened as the audience gathered for performers Muzzie Braun, Micky & The Motorcars and headliners Reckless Kelly.

Up front, couples swing danced, attendees swayed to the music and in the audience one man in a white cowboy hat sang along to every word. Parents lifted bouncing kids upon their shoulders for a better view.

Lightning and thunderstorms punctuated the fair Saturday night, but as the streets of Ontario flooded many remained in the rodeo stands, perhaps hoping to make the county fair last as long as possible.

Lightning strikes north of Vale on Saturday, July 31. Heavy rains poured over the valley for the majority of the evening and night. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)

News tip? Contact reporter Abbey McDonald at [email protected]


PHOTOS: Corndogs, games and a concert: Malheur County’s Fair made a grand return for 2021

A musical family affair for concert night at the Malheur County Fair

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