From the Reporter's Desk: Fair magic comes from Central Montana’s dedication to community

Will Briggs News-Argus Staff
Wednesday, August 3, 2022
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Guy Maberry (right) of Hilger takes bids from the audience as Royce Stonehocker of Denton sells her 299-pound pig during the Junior Livestock Sale at the Central Montana Fair on Friday afternoon. Dozens of area businesses and individuals showed their support of area kids by purchasing the livestock they showed at the Fair. Photo by Jacques Rutten

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Deb Willmore and her grandson wave to the parade-goers during the Central Montana Fair Parade, held last Thursday, July 28. Photo by Will Briggs

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Whenever people ask me what I like most about working at a newspaper, I tell them it’s the opportunity to meet people, hear their stories, and get to know the community. Covering my first Central Montana Fair last week was certainly a way to stress-test both that idea and myself. I made 13 separate trips to the fairgrounds last week. Monday at 8 a.m., I grabbed a camera and my notebook from the office and headed out to the gazebo to watch the 4-H dog show. An hour and a half later, I had to leave for a meeting, but I came back to catch the end of the show and watch kids lead their dogs through hoops and over jumps.

Tuesday, I made three trips. Wednesday I, made four… you get the idea. If nothing else, I’m a far better animal photographer than I was at the beginning of last week if the thousand or so stock show photos I took are any indication. I can also provide pretty good directions of the fairgrounds in case anyone gets lost there.

I’m not complaining – quite the opposite. There was genuinely so much to see and do and see and appreciate, and so much food to try. But what I came away the most impressed with, aside from the delicious slice of blackberry-rhubarb pie I had at the 4-H food booth last Tuesday afternoon, was the breathtaking amount of work it takes to put on the fair and the community spirit that practically oozes out of so many of the events and volunteers. A few vignettes from the week stand out: The crowds

A few vignettes from the week stand out: The crowds that packed the ring at the pavilion in support of 4-H students showing off their sheep, swine, and cattle; those same 4-H students taking time out of their packed show schedules to work the food booth (thanks again for recommending the pie, Jasper) and joke with one another about who was getting more customers; running into exhausted but happy members of the fair board who had taken vacation time to work one of the most stressful weeks of their year; and the volunteers who spent hours accepting submissions for the floral, agriculture, horticulture, vegetables, and foods open class entries, only to turn around and spend even more time judging those submissions.

Also, seeing kids lead dogs with varying enthusiasm levels through the assortment of jumps, chutes, and hoops at the dog show.

What strikes me about all those images is that none of them are the “big” events. The rodeo and the demolition derby draw the crowds, and for good reason. There’s precedent for that. In 1896, an estimated 40-50,000 people gathered in Central Texas at a site later named “Crush” to witness a staged train wreck between two 35-ton locomotives, one bright green, one bright red. Yet Crush and its temporary restaurant, jail, and bleachers, also disappeared within a day. A community, after all, is what gives an event its real meaning.

That’s why, at least this year, I came away thinking the magic of the Central Montana Fair comes from Central Montanans, from students putting themselves out there to show their ducks at a poultry show to photographers displaying their favorite photos, and the many, many volunteers, facilities staff, and participants who make it all possible by taking even more than 13 trips each year to the fairgrounds.

There’s no Central Montana Fair without them.

A community, after all, is what gives an event its real meaning.