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Published: Wednesday, 6/25/2003

Food, fun, fur compete with heat at fairgrounds


OTTAWA, Ohio - It's not the sweet smell of elephant ears or the bleating of sheared sheep that traditionally signifies the start of the county fair season.

It's the heat.

The Putnam County Fair opened yesterday, welcoming people from across the county and beyond to one of the first fairs of the season. And yesterday's high temperature of 87 degrees kept alive the local joke that you can always tell the fair's in town by the heat.

“It's always so darn hot here,” said Denise Woods of Midway Attractions vendors, who has operated game and food booths at the fair for years. “I mean always.”

Although not the first county fair in the state - Pickaway has it beat by a few days - Putnam County has long marked the beginning of fair season in northwest Ohio. The fair's evening and weekend events tend to bring out the biggest crowds, but ride revelers and animal lovers were milling around in the hot afternoon sun.

Jacob Hermiller, 11, is all smiles, after winning his junior horsemanship ribbon and trophy at the Putnam County Fair. The fair, one of the first of the season, opened yesterday in Ottawa. Jacob Hermiller, 11, is all smiles, after winning his junior horsemanship ribbon and trophy at the Putnam County Fair. The fair, one of the first of the season, opened yesterday in Ottawa.

Putnam County's offers everything from baby farm animals and 4-H competitions on one side of the fairgrounds to fast-paced rides on the other.

And in between, lemonade, French fries, and hot dogs.

“I like the food. It's one of the reasons I come,” laughed Doris Pingle, 78, who anticipates she'll visit the fair at least three days. “It's just something I've done all my life. Of course, I wish it was back in October like it used to be 60 or so years ago, because of produce.”

Food wasn't quite on Kara Vollmar's mind as she prepped her 10-pound rabbit, Angel, for the senior doe New Zealand competition.

The 14 year old has been a part of 4-H for years, and has competed in the rabbit competition at the fair for five years. But it was Angel's first time at the fair.

“It's an easy project, but it takes a lot of time to raise an animal,” Kara said as she patted the large white rabbit. “It's work, but it's fun.”

Because rabbits don't sweat, Angel's cage was equipped with frozen bottles of water to offer her some relief. In neighboring barns where the dairy and beef calves were penned, large fans agitated the air to offer some respite.

Kara's mother, Michelle Minjarez, said that the heat often brings the members of 4-H together. Although the competition is fierce, everyone tends to look after all the animals to make sure they are as comfortable as possible.

“The kids all grew up in the same area, and they have that competitive spirit from all the sporting events,” she said. “But once they get here, they all help take care of the animals. They all help out.”

Three-year-old Genevieve Hitchcock was too young to raise an animal herself, but she was all about seeing them. The toddler's father, Rob, drove her from Defiance so she could look at her favorite animals - cows and the “big horsies.”

“My niece and nephew raise animals and we wanted to come out and support them,” Mr. Hitchcock said. “We're originally from Putnam, so we always come out here.”

Visitors may not have noticed many differences in the first few hours, but organizers promised continued growth and additions. Fair Director Eleanor Risser said booths have been added under the renovated grandstand, and an engraved brick patio was built at the Junior Fair offices by the 4-H club. New to the schedule is Saturday's Four-Wheel Off-Road Xtreme, where everything from four-wheelers to lawnmowers will be used to jump obstacles.

And organizers are collecting ideas for next year's fair.

“We keep a running list of things that have gone wrong to discuss at the July fair board meeting,” Ms. Risser said. “I have four on my list already.”

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