By Shane Smith, El Reno Tribune
If the 64th Annual Canadian County Free Fair was any indication, many of the area youth are going to go on to lead very successful lives.
Youngsters portrayed a demeanor of confidence and responsibility throughout the variety of contests. No matter if it was an animal show, an art show or a botanical show, the faces of the young people lit up during moments of success and, on occasion, a little embarrassment over falling down. But isn’t that what contests are for — to teach kids how to get back up?
The animal shows featured creatures looking more like adorable cartoon characters than livestock, especially the rabbits. Judged by Robert Caldwell, the rabbits included many different breeds including Mini Rexes, Dwarf Hotos, American Fuzzy Lops and Lion Heads. These aren’t your run of the mill rabbits.
“The rabbits are judged by how close they are to the standard of their breed,” said Caldwell. “We judge them by their health, color and muscle tone.”
Unlike other animal shows, a child doesn’t have to be in 4-H or FFA to participate in the bunny contest.
“It’s good for kids who don’t have a barn or livestock,” said Canadian County 4-H leader Liz Nicholson. “They can still participate in the showing of animals. It still builds their character and teaches them life lessons through something as cute and sweet as a bunny.”
“A lot of people heard about it through social media groups,” said James Fry, superintendent for the rabbit show. “It’s a nice, relaxed, fun show, and anybody in Canadian County can enter.”
Best of show winner for the youth was Macie McKinney, and the reserve best of show was Kaydee Thompson. Jeremy Fry won best of show for the open adult division.
Livestock shows kicked into gear with the county goat competition. Dozens of goats of all colors and sizes were bleating loudly in the agricultural building, and their owners beamed proud smiles as they led their animals out to be judged. The Grand Champion was Jamie Schieber of Union City FFA.
An art contest was held at the 4-H Educational Building. Breathtaking canvasses of oil paint, edgy colored pencil drawings and impressive children’s drawings were in abundance. Many people both young and old entered their artwork into the contest, and there were ribbons on nearly every single piece — they truly were works of art.
“Judging the pieces was challenging,” said art judge Larry Clements, who has taught photography at Redlands for nearly 30 years. “It was more difficult than I anticipated because there was quite a lot of local talent.”
Superintendents for the competition, Peggy Campbell, Shirley Bounds and Pam Bretz, are all artists themselves. They are members of Finishing Touch Artisans, and they frequently enter their work into various contests. The group encourages other creative people to do the same.
“We are always wanting more people to participate,” said Bounds. “Art means so much to so many people, and it speaks to us all in different ways. You have an escape and a release when you are painting.”
The best of show for the professional division was Corky Spurlin’s “Floral,” and Shirley Bounds herself won the non-professional best of show with “Magnolia.” Morgan Branson’s “Cowboy Cowgirl” won for grades 1-3, Lidy Novak’s “Swirly Curly” won in grades 4-6, and Ainslee Bailey’s “Flowers” won the junior high division. The best of show for the high school division was Emily Hetchler’s “Wonder Woman.”
The Farmhand Olympics had contestants from every town in Canadian County compete in such time-honored traditions as egg spoon racing, gunny sack racing, calf roping, barrow racing and water hauling. The aspiring young farmers of El Reno worked as a team and won the championship for all divisions.
Inside Jenks Simmons Field House there were booths set up for various functions including a fundraiser for the recently closed Redlands pool, a domestic abuse prevention booth, a booth spreading awareness for cystic fibrosis, and an anti-drug booth set up by the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office.
A sweet scent filled the entire building — 30 succulent pies were lined across a table waiting to be tasted by the judges. Hadley Anderson was the junior champion pie baker for her chocolate silk pie. Vicky Frank’s peach pie won best of show for the senior division. Vicky Duncan was the winner of the Busy Baker pie award.
There were other contests in the building, with booths featuring a substantial amount of hand-crafted items. Donna Jung, OSU Extension Family Consumer Science educator, was the general superintendent for all the booths put up by Oklahoma Home and Community Education.
“We put on educational booths featuring home projects such as handmade clothing, canned goods, baked goods, quilting and more.”
For the flower show, dozens of carefully arranged bouquets lined the booth, some showing impressive creativity with miniature figures and landscapes.
“Taking part in the competition is a good way to network with the community,” said Courtney Keck, OSU Extension horticulture educator. “It’s all about the pride of the competition rather than the prizes.”
Master Gardener Roger Quinn judged the competition, and the best of show was a nearly 50-year-old cactus grown by John Ridge.
It wouldn’t be the Canadian County Free Fair without more livestock shows. Later on Friday, Jackson Bow of El Reno took home the Grand Heifer award, and Kayden Offolter of El Reno won the reserve championship.
On Saturday morning there was a 4-H/FFA Livestock Judging Contest. For the Steer Show, Jackson Bow again took home the championship, and Lily Wedman of the Yukon FFA won the reserve championship.
After Saturday events like the Horse Show and the children’s Pedal Pull, there was a very successful Stick Horse Rodeo featuring kids from all over the county. All the first-prize winners were from El Reno. Kale Wedman won for ages 3-4, Trip Burden won for ages 5-6, and Brimley Crouch won for ages 7-8.
Before Saturday’s musical entertainment began, there was a ceremony for the Family Night Awards. Donna Dyer won Canadian County Person of the Year for her work with the community including organizations such as Blessing Baskets.
With a country sound full of hard rock guitar riffs and passionate vocals, the Holly Beth Band began entertainment on Saturday night. The band elicited cheers from the crowd. The band recently released an EP, and they are working on a full-length album due for release in 2019.
“We’re excited to be out here,” said Kingfisher native Holly Beth. “We are really glad they asked us to come out and play.”
There were many other events and competitions at the fair including master gardening booths, poultry and swine shows, sheep shows, lamb shows, a Tractor Pull, a Horseshoe Pitching Contest, a magic show and more.
Those involved with agricultural organizations such as 4-H, FFA and the OSU Extension believe that their programs teach kids invaluable life lessons. The groups also set out to educate Oklahomans on a myriad of subjects including heart disease, diabetes and other health issues.
“Agriculture is important, everyone should know where their food comes from,” said Union City agricultural educator Amber Johnson. “Our programs help to promote agricultural literacy. They learn responsibility and compassion for animals. It helps them treat animals humanely when going to market — they become advocates for the humane treatment of animals.”
The fair helps bridge the gaps in the county as well, said one official.
“In Canadian County, we have the urban side of the county but still have a culture rich in agriculture,” said Kyle Worthington, Canadian County OSU Extension director. “There gets to be an economic threshold due to the traffic flow and other factors that make it more difficult to farm. With urban sprawl, we’re losing a lot of natural resources, but we’re gaining at the same time. Younger millennials are coming in and they’re curious as to where their food comes from. The agricultural programs teach kids responsibility, public speaking skills and other skill sets. 4-H and FFA have interesting ways to engage kids and help develop their abilities.”