Coming Home to the NCW Fair

Photos courtesy NCW Fair.

by Margaret Viebrock

For most of us, the phrase “I’m going to the fair” evokes many memories, depending on when we became part of it. Some of us may remember our great-grandparents telling stories of loading up the wagons with the best of what they had grown and made with hopes of taking home a blue ribbon—from prize pigs to perfect pumpkins and crocheted doilies. Waterville resident Diane Petersen says she remembers “watching our children with their entries, countless hours of volunteering, and experiencing the joy of excited grandchildren when they see that blue ribbon on their own exhibit.”

“The fair is a celebration of all things home cooked, farm grown, and handmade by folks of all ages. It is a space to meet up with old friends and honor the connection between land, people, and animals, to show pride in our youth and in our way of life,” Petersen adds. Indeed, with a history spanning more than 125 years, the mission of the NCW Fair has not wavered. It is an event committed to the future of our youth, families, and communities through education and promotion of agriculture, industry, and the resources of the region.

The growth of the fair began with the Douglas County Industrial Exposition in 1895 commemorating the first year of statehood for Washington. The Big Bend Roundup came next, followed by the first annual Douglas County Fair and Potato Carnival in 1913 to celebrate the bumper crop of potatoes grown in the area. This became the Douglas County Fair in the 1920’s, and then the North Central Washington District Fair by the 1940’s.

The success of the NCW Fair can be attributed to many factors, but three things have really made it shine. First is the commitment of the fair board to provide entertainment that people will enjoy. For example, the Big Bend Roundup has evolved since the early 1900's from potato polo to the nail-biting events of the rodeo, wild cow milking contests, Native American relay races, and wild horse races. Likewise, the annual Friday night concert attracts people from all over the state for a popular country western singer. Off-season events include July 4 fireworks, an exhibition hall to rent for weddings, quinceaneras, and family reunions, school events, community meetings, and a recently updated RV park.

The second key factor of the NCW Fair's success is the volunteer force that make each of these events happen. A small paid staff and hundreds of volunteers manage the exhibit buildings, operate the livestock sale, run the rodeo, horse-races, and off-season events, and keep the grounds looking good.

Finally, the fair exhibitors, the financial supports of the fair and livestock sales, and the families who come are crucial to the continued success of the NCW Fair. There is no better place to learn about agriculture, see baby animals, or visit with your friends and neighbors. As Marcia Henkle, former 4-H member and fair secretary, says, “looking back, there are so many life lessons learned from 4-H – responsibility, record keeping, public speaking, love of animals – that have remained with me throughout the years. The friendships made and the special memories of the Fair have not faded. It really is a 'great place to come home to.'”