1970s: 4-H traditions transcend decades
Eagle, CO Colorado
EAGLE, Colorado –The night before the county fair is exciting … and grueling. Just ask any 4-H’er, past or present.
“What I remember about the fair was working all the night before to finish my project every year,” admits Linda (Hoza) Taylor, of Gypsum. There was some stress, and undoubtedly some family drama involved in getting those sewing and cooking projects to the finish line.
Still, Taylor remembers the Eagle County Fair experience as “a fun time.”
Taylor, who grew up in Eagle, was a 4-H’er in the 1970s. That was a time when the program was getting record participation. Exhibit tables filled the exhibit hall at the fairgrounds from one end to the other.
“You weren’t just competing with a few entries … you were competing with a whole table full of cookies or muffins,” she recalls.
The county was growing more urbanized by that time, so the ratio of ranch 4-H’ers and town 4-H’ers was starting to tip towards the town group.
“You had the cookers and the cows. You were either in the building (with home economic projects), or out of the building (with livestock exhibits),” Taylor recalls. The competition was fierce, but fun.
Jackie (Phillips) Schlegel, of Burns, estimates that this week’s fair is the 20th consecutive year her kids have been involved with the 4-H programs. And that doesn’t count the years that she competed as one of the “town” kids, back in the 1970s. She recalls that Joyce Swanson led the 4-H sewing club. Schlegel also remembers the agony of selecting the six best cookies out of a batch to present to the judges.
“You learned a lot from 4-H – how to keep record books, how to present a project or a speech, how to judge things,” recalls Taylor. She still has the sewing machine that she won with her 4-H “Make it Yourself with Wool” contest.
By the 1970s, the county fair was settled in its permanent home, and had nothing to do but grow bigger and better. Between the 4-H and open class exhibits, and the gymkhana and rodeo, the fair was growing into a multi-day event.
Bill Coffey was the county agent that led the fair effort. But as always, it was the volunteers who made it happen.
The late Bonita Eaton was one of those volunteers. Active in the Eagle County Fair Association, she volunteered countless hours, in many capacities, for the fair. But she was probably best known for her management of the 4-H and rodeo concessions stand, over by the rodeo arena.
Initially, the concessions stand had been little more than a group of card tables, from which workers sold sandwiches, cakes and pies donated by 4-H mothers. The hamburger grill was set atop a high, makeshift counter. Some of the ladies had to stand on a box in order to flip the burgers. If a rainstorm blew through, they scrambled to cover everything with a tarp.
Dennie Eaton built the wooden concessions stand in 1966. It featured running water (cold only), a refrigerator, a stationary grill, a freezer chest and a cement floor. The volunteers were thrilled.
During the 1972 fair, the 4-H concession stand ladies cooked and sold 160 pounds of hamburgers, 25 packages of hot dogs and 25 cases of candy. The $1,080 in profits were used to send 4-H’ers to various programs.
The Fat Stock Sale had become a must-attend event for the local business community. The bidding grew increasingly competitive as businessmen from Vail joined in the tradition. In 1974, Marvin Hornbaker of Reuben’s Restaurant and local rancher Loren Chambers teamed together to purchase the grand champion steer from David Griffin.
In 1976, Scott Shearwood was the winner of the round robin showmanship competition. Swift-footed 4-H’ers Kenny Scott, Susie Obermeyer and Ken Albertson secured their next year’s projects in the Catch-It Calf contest.
In 1978, Edie Lederhause (Lengel) caught a pig; and Debbie Kesterson caught a lamb. Tim Reimler, of Eagle, and Jodi Rhodes, of McCoy, tied for top honors in junior showmanship.
Friday night concerts were added to the program, with bands brought out of Denver.
Many of the traditions that have been in place since that first fair in 1939 were still a part of the celebration. The ranch kids and town kids looked forward to several days of running around the fairgrounds. The 4-H’ers worked hard to get their projects done on time. And those purple and blue ribbons were displayed with pride.
More changes were in tap as the county demographics changed, and county leaders started seeking an event that was bigger than a small-town county fair.
Kathy Heicher is a freelance journalist, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.