As I was preparing to participate in the 2018 Umatilla County Fair Parade, it occurred to me what a unique and special institution county fairs are. Each of the 36 Oregon counties have a county fair, including the seven counties I represent in Senate District 29.
Each year Oregonians gather together to showcase and celebrate at county fairs across our state. There is something for everyone at these gatherings, which were first held before statehood in the mid-1800s.
I have been attending county fairs for decades, as a participant, spectator and parent. In my 30 years serving as a county commissioner, I came to an entirely new
appreciation for what these fairs mean to our way of life.
What makes county fairs so special and attractive? Let me share my reasons, in no particular order (except for the first). My top 10 reasons why county fairs are special.
1. Elephant ears, corn dogs and ice cream! It doesn’t get any better than this.
2. Something for everyone. It doesn’t matter whether you are young or old. This is one reason why in 2017 more than 1.5 million guests attended fairs in Oregon.
3. Showcasing achievement. Last year, according to the Oregon Fairs Association, there were more than 58,000 4-H and FFA exhibits. Add to this figure roughly 46,000 adult and 22,000 youth exhibits, and you have thousands of Oregonians showcasing their talents and achievements.
4. Parade. Everyone loves a parade, and the County Fair Parade is always a fun one.
5. Volunteers make it happen. Every fair has a hardworking fair board and an army of volunteers. Many fair board members take their vacations to live in a trailer on the fairgrounds. And as far as I know, they receive not a dime for their services. In fact, for most board members, it costs them money to serve. Their contributions make county fairs happen.
6. Fairs are a gathering place. I have many lifelong friendships and memories that began in 4-H and FFA, at county fairs.
7. Heritage and culture. Our county fairs provide the venue to express and keep alive our heritage and culture — past, present and future.
8. Entertainment. I have enjoyed big names like The Oakridge Boys and The Charlie Daniels Band. There is daily entertainment and local groups on the stages at county fairs. All for the price of an admission ticket.
9. The carnival and rides. I have to admit when it comes to rides or games of skill, I’m not much of a participant. Rides and elephant ears don’t go together for me, and I’ll choose the “ears” every time. But if you get a wristband, you can ride to your heart’s content. I do like to watch.
10. County fairs are a bridge. They bridge generations, urban-rural, ethnic backgrounds, politics, regions and so much more.
Sen. Bill Hansell is a huge supporter of county fairs and has exhibited both as a youth and adult. He even took home a blue ribbon for a watercolor painting at the Umatilla County Fair. He and his wife, Margaret, reside in Athena. All six of their children were livestock exhibitors, which helped pay for their college educations.