West Liberty resident Marilyn Henderson’s has been attending the Muscatine County Fair for 92 consecutive years. I got together with Marilyn to relive some of her memories of the fair through the past nine decades. The following is Marilyn’s account of the local fair.
WOW, today I received an A on my report card for 92 years perfect attendance . . . at the West Liberty Fair! I was born in June 1929, and that August, I attended my very first fair. My dad, Jay Duncan, had been involved as Superintendent of Poultry for a number of years prior, so I guess he wanted me to start young. The poultry building was where the new flower building is now.
My dad had the very first penny pitch stand. A cousin from Iowa City and a couple uncles came to help him run it. I kept the board for quite a few years after, and many organizations borrowed it when they had fundraising events.
The entertainment was the same every afternoon and evening until horse racing started. It was quite a treat to see all the carts with the drivers sporting their satiny, colorful apparel. We were treated to high wire acts, Joey Chitwood, animal acts, and much later on with well-known singers and music.
When I was about nine, I entered a cake ‘Brownstone Front’ (a chocolate layer) with seven-minute icing, and won first prize. I was very excited. And recently while going through some things, I ran across the many ribbons I had won for antiques entered.
We ‘girls’ spent many hours walking up and down the midway. With minimal money in our pockets each day, we had big decisions to make – whether it be for rides, food/drink, or games. One of my favorite stops was for taffy (black walnut and strawberry). The last day of the fair I stocked up to tide me over for the next few days. They also had candied apples which had a red syrupy hard coating on the outside.
The fair was held the end of August, and then the next week school started. Getting a few new clothes for school, I begged my mom to let me wear some of them early.
At one time the fair office was at the very top of the stairs of the now Attorney Keele building (in downtown West Liberty), before real fair days, and then we moved the office to the fairgrounds in the very small building which is now the announcer’s building. During the war years – 1942-1946 – it was a toss-up whether we would be able to continue.
In 1984, the fair was a near miss for me! It was fair week, and our son was graduating from Mortuary School in Dallas, Texas, so we were there attending that. Mid-afternoon on Sunday we arrived home, so I immediately scooted to the fair in time to view some of the entries before release time at 4 p.m.
I have worn many hats at the fair: Being an exhibitor, one of four Superintendents for the Arts and Crafts for a number of years, and volunteering with the Nursing Home, bringing a smile to many who would be fortunate enough to attend.
I was also fortunate to help my dad in the fair office the years he was Secretary (1942-1946), and spent afternoons working the American Legion Bingo. I also worked at the Methodist Church food stand which was the other half of the fruits and vegetables building and is now the Beer Garden. And I was delighted to work in the fair office a few years after I retired.
A lot of the parking was in the infield of the grounds before racing came into the picture. It has been fun over the years to see so many changes.
Last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I made it a point to walk the midway and did a drive-thru so I could still do my years of counting.
We have one of the most attractive fairgrounds around with so many trees, finely groomed. Hats off to all those involved with the activities now!
Phyllis Own Sterba is a West Liberty High School graduate who enjoys writing about history and creating other community features. She is always seeking ideas for stories and can be contacted through the Index at indexnews@Lcom.net or by calling the office at 219-627-2814.