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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Gray Matters: Prepare for the Fair

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

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Today I am writing about fairs. Each year there's one in Cherokee, one in Marcus and several others in the area. You may be thinking, "Why so early? There's plenty of time to think about those matters." Surprisingly, there are board members, committee members, and many others who think about those matters year-round.

The Marcus Fair, the one with which I am most familiar, is to be held Aug. 7-10. It is billed as the 72nd annual fair, but that is not quite the whole story. The Marcus Fair, in its present incarnation, did begin in 1936, but early records tell of a Union Agricultural Society Fair being held before 1890. These records also indicate that the original Cherokee County Fair took place in Marcus rather than in the county seat. It would be interesting to research that early history more fully.

But for now we are concerned with the 2008 version, which promises to be special in many respects. The tradition of holding family and class reunions at fair time continues to grow, and several are being planned. Garden Club members are already encouraging everyone to manage their plantings so specimens of fruit, flowers, vegetables and grain will be at their peak for Fair competition. I'm sure you'll be reminded of other preparations in the weeks ahead.

The true highlight of the 2008 Marcus Fair will be the appearance of The Westernaires, world- renowned precision riding group from Jefferson County, Colorado. Fifty of their advanced riders, the adult chaperones, their horses, tack and props, will be arriving in a caravan of semis, to put on two shows and to ride in the Fair Parade.

An amazing gentleman, Elmer Wayland, founded the Lakewood Pony Club, in 1949. Lakewood, a small rural town, was surrounded by, ranchers, cowboys and farmers. Every kid had a horse, even those living in town. Inspired by Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, Wayland began the club to give his and his neighbors' children something to do. Then, as now, any Jefferson County youngster, aged 9 to 14, is eligible to apply. If accepted, he/she can ride until graduating from high school. Today there are a thousand young people from all walks of life, and with all levels of riding skills involved in this remarkable program. Former riders, parents, and other adult volunteers keep it functioning.

By 1954 they had changed their name to The Westernaires and had moved from their first location to the present 40A.site known as Fort Westernaire, adjacent to the Jefferson County Fair Grounds. In addition to the indoor and outdoor arenas, tack building, costume facility and prop shop, there is one residence on the property. It is that of the manager, their only paid employee. Everything else is done by the devoted army of volunteers who seem as bonded with the organization as the young riders are with their horses.

Shows, comprising of precision drills, historic reenactments and riding style displays, have been presented at all the major rodeos, stock shows and similar events in the US. A special audience one year in Denver included Pres. Bill Clinton and eight heads of state from around the world. They have ridden with the Royal Canadian Mounties, appeared on national television and in several Hollywood movies.

How, you may ask, is this small fair able to engage such an attraction? Well, it's like this. Parent volunteers, John and Rebecca Hissem, have identical twin daughters, Anna and Jessica, who ride with the Westernaires. Dad John has never forgotten the many youthful summers spent on the farm of his grandparents, Oscar and Polly Heline, the farm on which his mother, Nancy Hier now lives.

Therein, lies the connection. It is going to take a lot of "Westernaire-style" volunteering on the part of the Fair Board and many others to bring this breath-taking treat to Cherokee County. But John's fond memories will be paying off for all of us, come August 7-10.