It was the first time the Umatilla County Fair appreciation dinner was held at its new facility, but many of the night’s honorees reminisced about old times.
As the fair board said goodbye to longtime board member Dan Dorran, the fair welcomed state Rep. Greg Smith sand his wife Sherri as the next grand marshals. Dorran and Greg Smith played an instrumental role in the past 17 years of county fair history.
Introducing Smith as the 2018 grand marshal, Dorran remembered meeting with the Heppner Republican in 2001, when both were still fresh to their respective governing bodies. It was a tough year for the Umatilla County Fair and county fairs across the state as the Legislature eliminated funding for fairground maintenance in the state budget.
Dorran commended Smith for helping pass a bill that permanently allocated money from the state lottery fund to county fairs.
Smith would spend his ensuing years in the state House of Representatives lobbying on behalf of the fair, whether it was fighting further cuts to fair funding or helping secure a $6.4 million lottery grant to build the Eastern Oregon Trade and Events Center, which was hosting the appreciation dinner Tuesday night.
But Smith wasn’t the only one remembered for his contribution to the fair.
One by one, fair board members praised Dorran for his work ethic, his indefatigable spirit and his commitment to the fair, even as they razzed him for overusing words like “incredible” and “awesome.”
“Dan is the guy you go to when you want to get things done,” board Vice-Chairman Mel Keely said.
When it was his turn to speak, Dorran shared some of the things he took pride in, like the growth in the number of food vendors and the successful launch of Latino Night after a few false starts. One of his most vivid memories was watching Future Farmers of America students tear up as they walked their livestock one last time before being sold.
The theme of the 2018 is “Let’s stirrup some fun,” and the night’s honorees tried to stick to that theme by mixing levity with sincerity.
As he accepted his marshal badge, Smith said he recently visited Hermiston High School, where he was mistaken twice by a staff member, first for former U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith and then for U.S. Rep. Greg Walden.
“I told that story because we feel like a mistake has been made,” Smith said after the audience laughter died down. “Each of you are more deserving than we are.”
Smith and Dorran weren’t the only people honored Saturday night.
A new fair court was announced, with Bobbie Sharp, 17, of Echo, Olivia Warner, 17, of Pilot Rock, Laiklyn Fields, 15, of Hermiston, and Rebekah Miller, 15 of Hermiston taking the stage after the 2017 court was honored.
Alice Dyer was honored as the female volunteer of the year for her work helping out in the small animal area while Steve Kelsoe, a “jack-of-all-trades” who handles everything from hauling hay for livestock to welding, was honored as the male volunteer of the year. A-1 Industrial Hose & Supply won the business partner of the year award.
All the honorees deflected praise and thanked the other people who help make the fair happen.
Board member Lucas Wagner was responsible for revealing the entertainment for next year, and he delivered with a few notable exceptions.
Boucning along as the act’s music played over EOTEC’s loudspeakers, Wagner said country music singer Sawyer Brown will open up the fair on Tuesday.
Wednesday will see country band Brewer’s Grade of The Dalles open up for another country act, Ned LeDoux.
Wagner said he wasn’t able to announce the acts for Thursday and Friday nights because the fair is still working to confirm them, although he did tease the audience about the identity of the Thursday act.
“It should be a crowd pleaser if you’re into late 80s, early 90s hair metal bands,” he said.
Saturday will be capped off with 90s rock band Blues Traveler.
Contact Antonio Sierra at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.