Faulkner County Fair celebrating 75 years of family fun

Carol Rolf Contributing Writer Published September 15, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

David Henze, left, chairman of the Faulkner County Fair Association Board of Directors, and Larry Brewer, treasurer of the association, display the program and a cap marking the 75th year of the Faulkner County Fair.

— The Faulkner County Fair is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

History shows that the first Faulkner County Fair was held in 1909, with subsequent fairs following until 1915. But those early fairs lost money, and the powers-that-were decided not to hold a fair after 1915. Those early fairs were held on property located behind what is now the Faulkner Plaza Shopping Center in Conway.

It would be another 23 years before the county hosted a fair, and it is that date, 1938, that today’s fair officials use as the basis for the 75th anniversary.

In 1938, under the leadership of the Young Businessmen’s Association, the fair was held in a building at the northwest corner of Locust and Oak streets. From 1939 to 1942 the fair was held at the northwest corner of Van Ronkle and Markham streets. The 1945 fair was held on the Conway airport property. In 1946, the YBMA purchased property on Robins Street, and that location served as the fairgrounds until 2009. The fair opened at the Conway Expo Center and Fairgrounds, 2501 E. Oak St., in 2010.

This year’s fair will begin Tuesday with some livestock judging, followed by the Sparkle and Shine street parade at 5 p.m. in downtown Conway. The fair’s midway, which will be presented by Swyear Amusements of Illinois and Florida, will open after the parade.

The fair will continue through Saturday.

“The Faulkner County Fair is for the people, especially the kids,” said Larry Brewer of Conway, treasurer of the Faulkner County Fair Association Board of Directors. “There will be approximately 3,000 exhibits during the fair. There will be a wealth of livestock exhibits, as well as arts and crafts, baked goods, needlecraft, agronomy and horticulture.

“Each day will be full of activities,” said Brewer, 63, who first showed cattle at the county fair as a young exhibitor in 1960 and has been involved with the fair ever since. “We are trying to offer good, decent family fun. And it’s all free. The only charge is $5 for the parking, and a percentage of [that money] goes to the Faulkner County Shriners, who operate the parking lot for us.”

Exhibit buildings will open at 9 a.m. each day. The midway will open at 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and at noon Saturday.

Mary Margaret Satterfield, entertainment committee chairman, said that both local and national talent will be featured at this year’s fair.

Entertainers on stage will include Thrown Together of Faulkner County from 7:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday; Down Day from Yell County from 8-9:30 p.m. Friday; and the Exit 7 Band from Faulkner County from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by The Sins Country of Nashville, Tenn., from 8:30-10 p.m.

Inside, performers will include the Konway Kickers at 7 p.m. Thursday, Arkansas ATA Martial Arts at 6 pm. Friday followed by Central Arkansas Cheer at 7, and the LTD Edition Cloggers at 4 p.m. Saturday.

In observance of the fair’s 75th anniversary, “nickel” cups of ice cream with wooden spoons will be offered Wednesday and Thursday nights.

“We’re bringing back a little bit of something that might have been sold 75 years ago,” Brewer said.

Something else new this year will be billboard advertising. Brewer said a billboard near the 124 exit [Arkansas 25 North] off Interstate 40 will advertise this year’s fair.

“We’ve never had a billboard,” Brewer said. “It’s estimated that 40,000 cars go back and forth at that site a day. We’re hoping people coming in from Conway County or those just traveling through the state will see the sign and decide to come back to the fair. We don’t know if it will benefit us or not; it’s an experimental deal.”

Among the featured events at this year’s fair will be a dog-obedience exhibition and a small-dog show from 9-11 a.m. Friday, the junior livestock auction at 10 a.m. Saturday and a livestock special-awards ceremony at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Swyear Amusements will open the rides Thursday morning, free of charge to clients of the Conway Human Development Center.

“The Swyear brothers have been doing this for as long as they have been bringing the midway to the fair,” Brewer said. “It’s a wonderful community service they do.”

David Henze, 62, of Conway, general chairman of the fair board, recalls attending the fair when he was a young boy.

“As a kid, l lived about two blocks from the old YBMA fairgrounds,” he said. “I grew up going to the fair. Then when I got older, I called bingo for about 15 years.”

Henze said he became involved with the fair board in 2007 as preparations began for the move to the new location on East Oak Street.

“A new fair board was formed, and we worked closely with the old board from 2007 to 2009, trying to recruit new board members who would represent a wide spectrum of the county,” Henze said. “We couldn’t run the fair without the help of the [agriculture] teachers, the 4-H, our volunteer parents and grandparents, the city, the county, the [Cooperative] Extension Service. It is truly a community effort. The board is the ‘lightning rod’ — the final decision-makers.

“The fair is for the kids and community to come and have a good time. Seeing these kids show their animals, showing such intensity and drama, is like seeing a basketball player making a 3-pointer or a soccer player kicking a goal.

“Not all kids are athletes, but most of them can handle an animal, large or small.

“Not every kid can afford to show a $1,000 calf, but they can afford $15 or $20 for rabbits or chickens,” said Brewer, who showed registered Beefmaster cattle at the fair from 1968 until 2012. “Showing livestock instills values in kids. They learn showmanship and even how to spend their money.

“The kids are our leaders of tomorrow, our farmers of tomorrow.”

Since the fair moved to its new location, the board of directors has tried to add something each year. Brewer said a new public-announcement system was added last year, and this year a concrete pad will be added for use as a garbage receptacle.

“Every year we try to make some improvements,” Brewer said. “As we make a little money, we put it right back into the fairgrounds. We have a lot of expenses, and if we don’t have at least $30,000 in the kitty to begin the next year’s fair, we’re not going to open.”

Brewer said the fair has grown steadily since the move in 2010.

“A large part of that is because we now have air-conditioned buildings that don’t leak,” he said with a laugh. “People were reluctant to display their things at the old fairgrounds. We have a lot more exhibits now.”

Henze said the board “wants people to be safe” at the fair. “We contract with the city of Conway for a number of officers needed each night,” he said. “They will be here all week. Plus, we contract with the Faulkner County Reserve Deputies to help with traffic control. MEMS (Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services) will be on site during the whole fair, and the Conway Fire Department will be here to make sure everything is up to code.”

A copy of this year’s fair book may be found at area businesses; at the Faulkner County Cooperative Extension Service office, 110 S. Amity Road, Suite 200; or at www.uaex.edu/faulkner/4h/fair_catalog_2013.pdf.

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