I remember going to the county fair when I was eight years old, walking by the haunted house, today still hearing the scary sounds and feeling the cold chills that ran up my back. I can recall screams of the kids as the Tilt-A-Whirl flipped them around ... and the smells of the popcorn and cotton candy in the air.
The DeSoto County Fair, which runs through Saturday, still has those same happy sounds and wonderful smells — but it has much more. I spent days before the fair opened talking to the men and women constructing the carnival rides. And to Alex Arnold, whose family owns Arnold Amusements. Alex is in charge of the Michigan-based show’s transportation department. One of the first things I noticed was the vibrant colors of the attractions, and how clean everything looks. The employees were friendly, conscientious, and very well organized. This was a place where you could take your family and have a good time.
Over the next few days I was with the kids who had raised rabbits and chickens over the last six months to be judged at the fair. I talked to DeSoto County Fair Association board member Jamie Dixon, who is also in charge of rabbit entries this year. They have two divisions, the PeeWees, kids 5-to-7 years old, and the Youth Division, 8-to-18 years old. There are 100 rabbits being judged at this year’s fair.
I had the pleasure of talking to the husband-wife team, Bobbie and Ray Smith. Ray is a lifetime director for the DeSoto County Fair Association. We sat on a bench in front of the fairgrounds barn. I could see that he hurt from past ailments, and just 70-plus years of life in general, but he was having fun talking about his life at the fair. Ray and Bobbie got involved in 1987 when their son was with the Future Farmers of America and wanted to show a hog. “I figured if he was showin’, I ought to get involved ... and I’ve been here ever since,” Ray said. Over the years their kids and grandkids have all taken part in the fair. Their youngest grandson is showing an orange tree this year.
Ray went on: “Back when I first got involved, all of the surrounding communities would have a booth in the fair. Places like Fort Winder, Brownsville, Fort Ogden, they were all represented at the fair. Even the Art League had drawings and paintings to show.”
When I asked his fondest memory over the years, he replied, without hesitation: “My kids showin’.”
During his time at the fair, Ray has been chair of swine and steer committees, treasurer, had run the food booth and was president.
“I’ve done everything but run the beauty pageant,” he laughed.
Bobbie is in charge of the ticketbooth and is vendor chair. Ray and Bobbie’s granddaughter, Kayla Patton, oversees the fair’s beauty pageant, which has six age groups — kindergarten, first and second grades, third-fifth grades, middle school, Junior Miss and Miss DeSoto, which is high school juniors and seniors. Winners were crowned on Friday.
While participation has declined over the years, those in charge of our DeSoto County Fair work hard to find ways to turn that around. I hope they are successful, because it’s a wonderful way to bring our community together and to show-off our long agricultural heritage.