‘A Century of Silver’: Tillamook County reflects in preparation of 125th fair

Quasquicentennial: a 125th anniversary, as defined by our dear friends Merriam and Webster. The Tillamook County Fair will celebrate its quasquicentennial, A Century of Silver, next week.

Bust out the birthday cake.

By Jordan Wolfe

“This is a place where people come, and have been coming, for all these years; with many fairs closing, it is a testament of everyone who came before me,” said Camy VonSeggern, fair manager, as of Monday.

Tillamook County Fair

Reflecting on the 125th anniversary, VonSeggern said tradition has played a large role with the TCF.

“You know you can count on certain things at the fair,” she said, “It’s something I don’t want to change – the traditions. We can update it and make it fresh, but I don’t want to mess with tradition.”

Since 1891, the Tillamook County Fair has been an event for, most of the county, to gather annually and see friends and family they have not seen for the past year. However, problems in the years preceding the 100th anniversary of the Tillamook County Fair threatened to derail the quality of the fair.

Trouble in the 80s

“Tillamook County Fair was a success story,” said Jerry Underwood, who spent 20 years with the TCF, 1991 to 2011, mostly as the fair manager. “[It] had real problems in the late 80s.”

Underwood said buildings had deteriorated and the county had stopped taking care of the grounds.

“After the 1990 fair, the entire board quit.”

Five individuals, spanning the entire county assembled to take the fair in a new direction. One of these individuals was Underwood’s good friend.

“In March of 1991, Don Averill called and said ‘Underwood, what are you doing?'”

What followed was Underwood using his skills with finance to help budget with the new fair board, eventually taking on the role of fair organizer.

The 100th fair, Aged to Perfection, was Underwood, and the new board’s, first. He said it was a trial by fire. The group teamed with the Booster Club and local athletes to help with the man-power. After the first year, Underwood said the new board and he began really working with the community.

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A new direction

“It’s been something beautiful to watch,” said Van Moe, former KTIL owner, “It’s one of the only things that bring north, central and south county together.” He added that Tillamook, in a sense, has three individual counties, due to its size.

“John Love was on that first board and he put his heart and soul into that fair,” Moe said of another member who started alongside Don Averill.

With the help of individuals, businesses and the county, the new fair board spearheaded a charge to refurbish the fairgrounds, according to Underwood.

“Donnie’s a real go-getter,” he said.

Phone calls were made and businesses jumped in to help, including S-C Paving, who were brought in through the years to pave the courtyard and surrounding area, said Underwood.

He added the Sue Durrer Dairy Barn was built and paid for within a year. Following a 1992 incident when an old timber beam fell from the original barn on the Saturday of fair, the building was condemned and forced the event to end early.

With Underwood’s leadership, the TLC grandstands were completed, the fair was among the first county fairs to adopt the all-you-can-ride bracelets, new restrooms added, various 4-H buildings and numerous other projects.

Underwood said the week following the fair, the phone would constantly ring.

“What do you think the number one question was,” he asked, “‘What are the dates for next years fair?'”

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Memories of Mildred

“[Mildred Davy] would talk before the Fair,” Underwood said, “She’d say ‘People, my mom told me if you don’t do anything else, you have to enter something in the fair.'” Underwood added that it was important to Davy for the county to participate.

“We had a high number of exhibits for our small county,” Underwood said.

Davy’s relationship with the fair would ultimately have a lasting impact on local radio station, KTIL, according to Van Moe.

“Mildred loved the fair; she loved the exhibits,” Moe said.

KTIL started to continuously broadcast live from the fair from opening, 10 a.m., to after Pig ‘n’ Fords, 5:30 p.m. “There wasn’t music playing,” Moe said, “Anytime you turned on the station, you would think about the fair.”

However, according to Moe, it still was not enough for Davy.

Her show, It’s a Woman’s World, eventually began broadcasting live from the fairgrounds on the Monday of Fair week.

“We had to get the booth ready by Monday morning,” Moe said, “Mildred did the show every morning there.”

KTIL’s live broadcast from the fair was unique because most stations would do quick updates or cut to someone at a fair, according to Moe.

“I felt we could really promote that fair by being on-air and having lots of guests,” he said. “It was the four days we felt like we could really connect with our listeners.”

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A Century of Silver

For Dr. Roy and Claire Peterson, who have gone to the fair every year since 1946, the spirit of the fair hasn’t changed.

“They were big like they are now – they were important,” Claire Peterson said, “There was North County day and a South County day and a Middle County day.” She added businesses would shut down on Friday afternoon in Tillamook every year for Middle County day.

“They could see their friends and know they would be there.”

For Dr. Roy Peterson, retired veterinarian and track vet for 45 years, he is impressed with how the infrastructure has changed.

“The cow barns are so much larger and nicer than when we first came,” he said.

“Alfred Zwald had really nice Jerseys that were always exhibited,” Claire Peterson said, “He had a very well-kept farm.”

As the two reminisced, memories swirled of meeting friends in line to bet on horses; the field where cars park was once the local airfield from Tillamook’s Naval days and grange booths that have since all but vanished.

But they all came back to this: memories of a special time with friends and family.

“Everybody gathers in the same place,” she said, “It’s almost like Christmas.”

What will the Tillamook County Fair look like in 125 more years? If the same ideals that have built the fair are kept intact, it will at least feel the same.

“It’s still using the same entrances — it’s the same footprint you walk into,” Underwood said, “Nothing of that has changed. Nobody recently discovered how to make this a great fair.”

The Tillamook County Fair, A Century of Silver, will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the Tillamook County Fairgrounds, 4603 Third Street in Tillamook, from August 10 to August 13. For more information, call 503-842-2272.