CENTERVILLE – It’s been a stressful but exhilarating week for 10-year-old Zayden Prichard, a first-year showman at the St. Joseph County Grange Show.
A Centerville-area resident said it didn’t take long to realize the difference between attending the fair to help older siblings show the animals and supervising his animals at the annual fair.
Pritchard, a member of the Happy Herdsman 4-H Club, said he spent long, dusty days caring for his dairy cow, four rabbits and two chickens.
“Well, there always seems to be something to do,” he said, “a lot of work to keep the animals fed and watered, but being on the show all week was so worth it.” “I’m already looking forward to next year.”
Echoing the sentiments of thousands of former 4-H members before him, Pritchard got his first taste of what it’s like to care and show animals while spending the week at St. Joseph County’s biggest event of the year.
Spending the week on site is an excused absence from school and given Pritchard a hands-on opportunity to witness the fruits of his animal husbandry work. The 4-H auction was on Thursday and means Prichard will have a new round of animals to care for next year.
While animals have been a focus for Pritchard all week, other people come to the fair for a more pedestrian purpose: food.
Meet Schoolcraft District resident George Collins III. The 24-year-old college student said he annually attends fairs in most parts of southwest Michigan and even a few in neighboring counties in Indiana.
He said St. Joseph County and Allegan County proved to be the most interesting fairs. He said the lands on both properties set the county fair apart from all the others.
“I’ve been to this gallery three or four times a week for the past 10 years,” he said. “The best part? The food for sure. I also love jar pulling… It’s the most red-necked sport on Earth.”
Collins said dining spots on the show include a Pig-Headed BBQ for a beef sandwich, and any stand that sells corn dogs. He said soft pretzels are always good, especially with cheese for dipping. Furthermore, Collins said the steakhouse never disappoints.
He said the rustic feel of the St. Joseph Grange County Fair helps distinguish it from other area county fairs.
Collins, a Kalamazoo County resident, said he’s been a volunteer blacksmith in the past at the Allegan County Fair. He said he gave Allegan County a slight advantage as the best fair in the area, but St. Joseph County came in second.
Mindy Tim, director of marketing for St. Joseph’s County Grange Show, said the fair has seen large crowds this week, especially for its nightly runway shows.
“For the most part,” she said, “everything has been good…we’ve had a lot of good feedback from people.” “The real allowance is always the weather, of course, it really worked in our favor.”
Tim joked that this fair week pretty much captured the essence of Michigan’s unpredictable weather. For example, she said, many of the show-goers who attended Opening Day Sunday wore shorts and a T-shirt. By Friday night, and likely before the show wraps up tonight, Tim said, it wouldn’t be surprising for anyone to see people in blue jeans and a winter coat.
She said sellers reported strong sales and most are committed to returning next year.
“Free entertainment, shark meet, Heritage Park area, you name it and anyone who’s been here will tell you they enjoyed themselves,” she said. “When you don’t go to bed until 1:30 or 2:00, and you have to get up at 7[am]for a fair board meeting, you know it’s a tough, long day.”
Tim said Thursday’s 4-H animal auction included the sale of a pig offered by Brinley Sherman, the granddaughter of the late Jerry Waltke. Tim said Waltke has been a fair member of the board of directors for 13 years and spent a number of years, in addition, as a staunch supporter of the St. Joseph County Grange Fair.
Sherman pigs sold for $110 a pound, netting $31,790. Tim said the exceptionally high amount was, in fact, an anomaly, with Sherman promising to put the proceeds of the sale toward the development of the Jerry Waltke Memorial Pavilion shelter.
For comparison’s sake, a solid hog usually sells for $8 a pound on the high side.
“People have been very generous to support Brinley in this way,” she said. “There are still donations beyond what was collected through the auction.”
Tim noted that Waltke was inducted Thursday into the Saint Joseph Grange County Fair Hall of Fame.
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