Fair celebrates 50 years of fun

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 20, 2003

Each year the vacant lot behind the National Guard Armory is transformed into a fantasyland called the Butler County Fair.

This year’s fair is set to begin Sept. 23-27 at the Butler County Fairgrounds on Highway 10 West.

Now in its 50th year, the fair represents a tradition that is anticipated with eagerness every year for its bright lights, games, rides and exhibits of local goods.

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The first county fair was the brainchild of the late Rob Williams, a charter Kiwanis member.

Local Kiwanians who participated in that project said Williams wanted to reinstate the fair, which hadn’t been held in the county for several years, because he wanted a place to showcase the area’s agricultural bounty.

The first fair was held on October 18-23, 1954, at a vacant lot that is now home to Norman-Blackmon Motor Company.

Fair founders related fond memories of those first days that included pony rides and muddy lots, and the search for a permanent home. After a few years at the Norman location, the fair moved to another location below the railroad tracks, when Babcock Furniture is now situated.

As the town grew, so did the fair. It moved once again to the National Guard Armory on Highway 10 West/Pine Apple Highway.

&uot;We were able to negotiate a 100-year lease for the property behind the Armory with the National Guard,&uot; charter Kiwanian Eric Cates said.

The fair had found a home.

The next item for the fair promoters was to have facilities at the site, so they could have exhibits and concessions.

&uot;The Kiwanis Club didn’t have enough money to build facilities, so we went to the First National Bank and had 10 members sign $1,000 notes with the bank for the money,&uot; Cates said. &uot;That’s how we got them built. After a few years, we paid the notes off.&uot;

For the first few fairs, money was raised through concessions and parking fees. In later years, the fair committees voted to drop the parking charge in favor of admission fees.

&uot;The first fees charged were $.25 for adults and $.10 for children,&uot; Cates said. &uot;We had very good attendance back then, and we still do. We had a bad weather situation a couple of years ago where we barely broke even, but other than that we’ve always done very well.&uot;

For Kiwanian Don Snellgrove, a local optometrist, the parking fees produced some humorous memories.

&uot;We had a fellow in charge of parking that would try to cram in as many cars as he could to make as much money as possible,&uot; Snellgrove said. &uot;Sometimes he’d get carried away and park cars in the mud. They would get stuck, and we’d have to pull them out.&uot;

Snellgrove said one year they had to get a tractor from a vendor’s tractor display booth to pull a car out of the mud.

Former Kiwanian Buster MacGuire said his fondest memories were the fair days he spent in the dunking booth the Kiwanis Club sponsored.

&uot;We had some pretty good marksmen in those days because I was dunked over and over again,&uot; MacGuire said. &uot;It was a lot of fun, though.&uot;

Today’s fairs may seem modern with its brilliant lights and thrilling rides, but for most Kiwanians, it hasn’t changed all that much.

&uot;We used to have more community exhibits because there were home demonstration clubs back then, and they would all have an exhibit at the fair,&uot; Cates said. &uot;Now those are not as popular. But the midway and the livestock shows are pretty much the same as they were at the first ones.&uot;

As the Kiwanis Club’s only fundraiser, Cates said the fair is still a tradition for Butler County residents and attendance is going strong.

&uot;We are doing well with the fair each year,&uot; he said. &uot;And every dime we raise is used to help our community – that’s the way it’s been since ‘day one.’ We should see the fair continue for many years to come.&uot;