Get Ready For The Northern Gila County Fair

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This is a big year for the Northern Gila County Fair, which will unfold Sept. 20 through Sept. 22 in Pine.

Not only is the event celebrating its 50th anniversary as an official county fair, it will simultaneously observe its 70th anniversary as a community fair.

But that's not all. This year's edition also will be the very last assembled by longtime county fair organizers Walt and Willene Smith.

"I think it's time for someone new to come in with new ideas," Walt said, finally ready to make good on his retirement plan.

"We do have several people who are thinking of taking it over, but they're still not sure if they want to assume such a responsibility ... Believe me, this requires a lot more effort than people may think."

Enough effort, in fact, to require 100 volunteers in addition to the Smiths.

But no matter who takes over, Walt promises, "It will be someone who will see that the fair continues in the same vein as the past.

"This is an historical event, and we're trying to keep it that way ..."

For one full decade, Walt, 73, has been the fair's co-chair along with Willene, 68, who's started out as a judge 25 years ago. In that time, he said, "We have maintained the fair just like it was in 1932, when people would bring stuff that they had made or grown or raised, like animals."

The Smiths also managed to pull the fair out of "dire financial straits" into a fund-raiser that rakes in more than $30,000 for local schools each year.

And not once before or after 1952, when the annual event was deemed an official county fair, have carnivals or anything of that commercial nature been allowed to participate.

"We've never tried to turn this into a money-making event," Walt said. "It's just a good old community get-together with live Western music entertainment, good food and lots of fun.

"It doesn't cost anything to come, and it doesn't cost anything to enter. "

In fact, Walt said, the fair is so much fun that despite his and Willene's determination to retire the Smiths will always be involved in "some way, shape or form. We'll never give up on it because the fair means so much to us. We just wouldn't like to see this historical event go away."

Vital statistics

The Northern Gila County Fair runs from noon to 5 p.m., Friday, Sept. 20; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 21; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 22.

All entries, excluding livestock, must be brought to the fair between noon and 6 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 19. Livestock, rabbits and birds must be in place by 8 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21.

Judging will be held prior to the opening of the fair. Ribbons and a total of $6,000 in premiums ($3 for first place, $2 second, $1 third) will be awarded. Checks will be issued at the fair Sunday, Sept. 22.

Within each of the award "departments" are myriads of classes and divisions, all of them detailed in the Northern Gila County Fair Premium List and Rules book available for 50 cents each at the Payson Public Library and the Pine-Strawberry Chamber of Commerce.

The award departments and related contact people are:

Horse Show and Livestock Horses, Brenda Steelman, 476-0809; Animals, Bobbi Miller, 474-2364; Small Animals, Catherine Ray, 668-9533.

Agriculture and Horticulture Ed and Carol Lydic, 478-4895.

Floriculture Eileen Lawson, 474-2784.

Homemaking Arts Judy Willingham, 474-5653.

Domestic Science Dixie O'Hara, 476-3754.

School Exhibits Suzanne Fumusa, 476-3734.

Canning Mitzi Paul, 476-2523.

Hobbies and Handicrafts Paul Paul, 476-2523.

School Exhibits Suzanne Fumusa, 476-3734.

4-H Members Bobbi Miller, 474-2364.

Canning Mitzi Paul, 476-2523.

Hobbies and Handicrafts Paul Paul, 476-2523.

Minerals and Lapidary Paul Paul, 476-2523.

Fine Arts Pat Roth, 476-2293.

Photography Ed Toliver, 476-4596.

Small Animal and Horse Show Horses, Brenda Steelman, 476-0809; Small Animals, Catherine Ray, 668-9533.

Llamas Myndi Brogdon, 476-2500.

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