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The Great Darke County Fair… Nothing else holds a candle
By Bob Robinson

Rain or shine, excited or tired, happy or grumpy… we see it all at the annual Great Darke County Fair. What I find so fascinating about this annual 9-day event, is the bringing together and hard work of so many diverse populations. Happy, grumpy or otherwise.

There are local vendors and those who travel the county fair circuits, offering everything from deep fried pickles, blooming onions and rib-eyes, to balloons, pony rides and putt-putt golf. Then there are locals and carnival travelers offering games of chance! Knock off the bottles or break a balloon and win a prize. Sometimes the prize is worth the cost of playing, sometimes not. Regardless, participants have fun trying to beat the system.

One of my students got a job offering a game of chance to win a sidewinder crab. She said they ran through their first batch in a couple days and had to bring in another one. Two more of my students showed off the crabs they’d won. Strange looking creatures, especially those whose shells had been decorated.

Of course, no county fair is complete without entertainment. The biggie at this year’s fair was Josh Turner and Jo Dee Messina. But that’s just for starters. Add in the Cheer Competition, Harness Racing, Little Miss & Mr Pageant, Tractor Pulls, Demolition Derby and the Gazebo (Elvis was on hand Tuesday afternoon), and visitors have more available entertainment in one week than some get outside of the “tube” all year.

The rides! Can’t forget those. Visitors (usually the younger ones) have a wide variety of choices, from the ferris wheel and merry-go-round to the zipper and bumper cars. They have little tyke versions and the scarier ones for those looking for excitement…

My first visit to a fair – anywhere – was in 1990 and it was The Great Darke County Fair. My family and I had been a regular visitor to California’s Disneyland over the years, but I was totally unprepared for the atmosphere of an honest-to-goodness county fair. I think I was in little-boy heaven (at the age of 46). Since relocating to Greenville in 2002, I’ve never missed the annual event… typically covering stories or wandering around nearly all nine days.

There’s a good reason our fair is called The GREAT Darke County Fair. It’s not the rides, the games, the vendors or the entertainment. Those were standard “fare” at Disneyland, other county fairs, even Knotts Berry Farm, another amusement park we visited on occasion. None of that.

It is the focus on youth, agriculture, and the rural lifestyle of Darke County.

Every year I get to see the hard work of hundreds of kids showing a year’s worth of effort… cattle, lambs, goats, chickens, turkeys, pigs, rabbits, horses, crafts, crops, photography and more. There is even a showplace for the family pet… dogs of every imaginable breed.

Darke County may or may not be unique in the rural heartland of America. I believe it is, but that’s just my opinion. What IS unique, and unarguable, is The Great Darke County Fair. And that is backed up by visitors from all over Ohio, neighboring states… and sometimes as far away as California, Florida and Washington (state of).

I spoke with one lady recently while we were standing in line for dinner. She was from Miami County, but she doesn’t go to the Miami County Fair.

“When I go to a fair, this is the one I go to,” she said.

Why? Because nothing else holds a candle to it.

Check out my first offering of fair photos – people and faces – at CNO’s Community Events Photo Gallery

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