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A Lot of Memories at the Bonner County Fair

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Dusty from age and disheveled, with unruly reeds sticking out in all directions like Medusa’s hair, a small basket sits on a shelf in my daughter’s bedroom. I constructed it with my very own clumsy fingers back in 1958. For some unknown reason, it’s been filled with a wadded-up sack of Trustworthy Hardware nails for a long time. 

As my first 4-H arts and crafts project, the basket set a precedent for the quality standard of Marianne’s handiwork - mediocre at best. I think it earned a red ribbon at the Bonner County Fair from a judge with a generous soul. More callous critics viewed my seamstress work - the apron, the dress and slip, and those awful flannel pajamas with their hideous flat-felt seams. In all three years of my enrollment in the 4-H sewing project, a white ribbon (symbolic for ‘thanks for showing up’) and 50 cents served as rewards for several months of ripping out and re-sewing ‘improper’ seams. But I kept coming back to the Fair. I loved the flavor - not only the culinary treats but also the people - many from outlying parts of the county whom we’d see just once a year. 

 I did enjoy moderate success at the Bonner County Fair during seven years of fervent 4-H participation and later as an open-class exhibitor, grooming nearly a dozen Hereford cattle to compete against Denny Shields, the LaVerne Coon family and other local livestock owners. If our Pend Oreille Hereford Ranch stock failed to finish the show with a passel of purple ribbons, I did claim a more cherished reward - a sumptuous home-style lunch afterward at a fair food booth, compliments of Denny. 

My memories of the fair - good and bad - date back nearly 50 years, but I can’t hold a candle to Jack Hickey or Francis McNall. Now 92, Jack, who’s owned a dairy in Oden since moving here in the early 1920s from Phillipsburg, Mont., remembers having T.T. McGhee haul his Holstein bull to the 1928 Bonner County Fair, then held at Sandpoint’s present Lakeview Park. Jack figures that T.T. had one of the first Model “A” trucks in the area at the time.

In 1932, Francis, then a 4-H’er, took a Shorthorn calf from the Grouse Creek farm as his project. It was his second year of 4-H, but his younger sister Lois (Westfall) had shown his calf the year before because Francis was attending school at Amber, a community just down the tracks from Cheney. Francis’ dad, W.W. “Bill” McNall, exhibited the first family Shorthorn in 1930. McNall’s have been bringing cattle to the Fair ever since. Francis isn’t sure if the great-grandkids have started showing yet, but they’re pretty close, he says.

At almost 83, Sagle’s Bernice Spade ranks as a relative young’un when it comes to Fair experience. She first attended 53 years ago as a Sagle Yodeling Coyotes 4-H parent. Bernice later led 4-H and served on the Fair Board. She chuckles about all the cheese that got smashed into her carpet while kids were working on their cooking projects at her house. In spite of the cheese and a messy raw-egg disasters, she maintains good memories of the great strides her members made during their years of preparing for the fair. 

Then there’s 30-something Sarah (Marienau) Mitchell, who discovered, as a 12-year-old competing in a Bonner County Fair pie-eating contest, that fruit pies might have been a more esthetic choice to cram down her partner’s throat than the pumpkin pie her mother Delsie made, especially after watching him upchuck his pumpkin filling. 

Or, how about young Collin Lawrence of the Selkirk Ranch? Last year, at the ripe age of five, he took home a third-place open-class ribbon for his cabbage. The highlight, though, came with his trophy for the “Pets and Their Friends” contest, where Collin, in Batman garb and accompanied by his smooth-coated collie, Miss Beulah - donned in complementing accessories - took top honors. It was a family affair for the Lawrences. Older brother Conner won a red ribbon with his dozen brown organic eggs, while Dad, Chip, earned a blue with his loaf of bread still warm from the bread machine. The Lawrence’s Casablanca lily earned a blue. Mom, Lynn, says she concentrated on “wrangling” family members to all their events.

Jack, Francis, Bernice, Sarah, the Lawrences and hundreds of others could fill a history book with their fair memories. This year, they’ll, no doubt, be reminiscing more than ever as the annual Bonner Countywide event - with no admission, plenty of action, and ample time for sitting and visiting - celebrates 75 years. Fair manager Rhonda Livingstone and her helpers want to make the celebration something extra special.

This year’s “Barnyard Jubilee,” beginning with a rodeo and spanning from Aug. 15-Aug. 24, is loaded with new attractions and special themes such as “Lil’ Abner and Daisy Mae Day” and “Wild, Wild West Day.” Rhonda is encouraging more exhibitors than ever to participate in the 2003 Fair. 

Even folks from western Montana and neighboring counties can enter - they just don’t receive premium money for their awards. She also encourages volunteers with carpentry, fencing, concrete, painting or landscaping skills to share their talents before next month’s Fair (call 263-8414). Help is needed. 

Rhonda has organized a decades-style reunion where canopy tents and chairs will provide venues and special times for Clark Fork, Priest River and Sandpoint area graduates from the 1920s through the new century to relax and reconnect. And for those a bit young for reminiscing, she’s organized an event to initiate those memories - a stick-horse rodeo for the youngsters. 

“We have a lot of entertainers, contests, and exhibits,” she says. “We are hoping that members of the community show their talent and enter their animals, crafts, baked goods, tractors, etc. at the Fair.” 

I second Rhonda’s motion. You’ve got nearly a month to prepare. Whether it’s that giant turnip from your garden, your favorite rooster, or your plate of yummy chocolate chip cookies, take it to the Fair and join the fun. Let’s continue the legacy by making this 75th edition one for the record books. 

For premium information and exhibit categories, consult your fairbook. Copies are available at Adele’s Sewing Center, Co-Op, Carter Country, the U of I Extension office, Mitchell’s in Priest River, the libraries and the fair office. 

See you at the Fair - without my basket!


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Author info

Marianne Love Marianne Love is a freelance writer and former English teacher who enjoys telling the stories of her community. She has authored several books, the latest of which is "Lessons With Love."

Tagged as:

Bonner County Fair, 4-H, Love Notes, Denny Shields, LaVerne Coon, Jack Hickey, Francis McNall, Bernice Spade, Sarah Marienau Mitchell, Collin Lawrence, Rhonda Livingstone

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