Passing Of Fair Sign Of The Times

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"No fair!"

As a group of Rim country young people weighed their livestock and put them through their paces at the annual pre-fair event Saturday in Pine, they could be excused for uttering this time-honored phrase of children everywhere. That's because the Northern Gila County Fair, for decades a Rim country tradition, is, quite literally, no more.

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Bonnie Jones, a PHS graduate who is currently a senior at the University of Arizona, finishes up her market hog judging demonstration just as the subject hog decides to make a break for freedom.

Walt and Willene Smith, who for many years organized and ran the event at the Pine Community Center and Fairgrounds, called it quits at the end of last year's fair on its 50th anniversary.

"They've been doing it for many, many years," said Bobbi Miller, a certified 4-H volunteer instructor, who is trying to keep the livestock portion of the fair alive. "They're just ready to retire and take life easy."

A couple dozen young people ranging in age from 9 to 19, who are raising livestock were at the pre-fair. This is where a number of activities occur that lead up to the big show and auction at the livestock barn in Pine on Sept. 12-13.

"We do ear tagging of the animals, which identifies them to their owners," Miller said. "The Arizona Department of Agriculture inspections are done, which deem the animals safe for food."

One of the most important functions at the pre-fair is to weigh the animals to make sure they meet minimums required to be eligible for next month's show and auction.

"This helps the kids adjust their feeding and exercising programs due to weight limit requirements," Miller said. "It gives them an extra month to change what they're doing."

Eleven of the young people are raising hogs and two lambs. There were also some rabbits and their owners in attendance Saturday.

"For hogs the minimum is 180 pounds, and for lambs the minimum is 80 pounds," Miller said.

Like the demise of the fair, the fact that no students are raising cows is, Miller believes, a sign of the times.

"The ranching industry is really dwindling," she said.

Still another pre-fair event is a practice show.

"A judge helps them and instructs them as to what the judge will be looking for at the real event next month," she said.

Miller, whose daughters are 15 and 13, moved from Illinois to Arizona with her family when she was 10 -- first to Kingman, then Holbrook and finally Payson. She was involved in 4-H in Illinois and continued with FFA through her teens.

Miller bucks the trend and tries to keep young people involved in both 4-H and FFA because she knows firsthand the values the programs instill in young people.

"They supply a lot of life skills that these kids will use for the rest of their lives," she said. "It teaches them public speaking, critical thinking, decision making, community service, citizenship, self-respect and self-discipline."

Bonnie Jones, a 2000 graduate of Payson High School, is a prime example of the benefits of the two programs. Jones, a senior at the University of Arizona majoring in veterinary science, was on-hand at the pre-fair to help the young people who are raising hogs.

"I got in 4-H when I was about 11," Jones said. "I raised two hogs, and then I changed to steers.

"I have gained so much. You learn a lot about caring for animals, and it's a great deal of responsibility. That's one of the greatest things -- most kids don't have anything to take care of these days."

While the livestock show and auction will still take place next month, a lot of popular aspects of the fair will be missing.

"Everything that was held at the community center is gone -- the flowers, vegetables and pictures," Miller said. "There's a lot of disappointment from locals that they don't get to display their items, especially a lot of the retired people because they work all year long on their projects -- whether it be sewing or canning."

While it's too late to save the fair this year, Miller is still hopeful that someone will eventually step forward.

"A lot of people are interested, but the scenario is always the same -- let somebody else do it," she said. "I'm hoping a number of people will come forward and form a committee and take it and run because there has been a lot of interest."

Jones shares her disappointment.

"I think it's really too bad," she said. "The community has supported it so strongly in the past; it's gone on a really long time."

Wendell Stevens, agriculture teacher and FFA sponsor at Payson High School, mentioned the fair's impact on the Rim country's culture and heritage as he watched some of his students with their animals Saturday.

"There's a lot of tradition to the Pine fair," Stevens said. "It means an awful lot, particularly to the community of Pine, but also to the northern part of the county.

"I'm hoping this is only a one year thing and we'll find individuals who want to take the fair over. It's not the same without the whole fair going."

Coming from the Midwest, Miller knows what an important part of community life county and state fairs can be.

"Fairs are such a big deal in Midwest with rides and all," she said. "It's an all-week-long to-do, and it's a wonderful time."

Regardless of whether the Northern Gila County Fair can stage a comeback, Miller encourages Rim country residents to come out on Sept. 12 and 13 for the livestock show and auction. The event is free and the young people involved have worked long and hard getting their animals ready.

"The livestock kids always seemed to attract a different kind of crowd, but about 50 percent of those that go to see the big portion of the fair generally wandered down to the livestock barns," she said. "Now we won't be able to draw on those crowds."

But the livestock show and auction is great family entertainment in its own right.

"People just really need to come out if they've never viewed a show class with livestock," Miller said.

"The hogs are just entertaining in themselves. You don't have the halter and the ropes.

"They're shown with canes. They're guided by using the cane and touching the hog in specific areas, which is very difficult when there are 10 other hogs in the arena choosing to do what they want. They are not really socialized."

The public is also welcome and encouraged to participate in the livestock auction. Because 4-H and FFA are non-profit organizations, purchases are tax deductible.

"We really need to sell all the animals," Miller said.

Northern Gila County Livestock Show and Auction

Pine Livestock Barn

Sept. 12-13

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

Friday, Sept. 12

6:30-7:15 a.m. - Exhibitors Check-in

7:15-7:45 a.m. - Weigh-in

10 a.m. - Judging of Showmanship and Market Classes

Noon - 4-H Goat Showmanship Classes

Lunch Break

3 p.m. - Horse Showmanship Classes

Saturday, Sept. 13

8 a.m. - Small Animal Check-in for 4-H and FFA Classes

8:45-10 a.m. - Small Animal Showmanship

10:30 a.m. - Market Animal Auction

Animals on display until noon.

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