PARKER, S.D. (KELO) — It’s billed as the oldest running fair in South Dakota: The Turner County Fair gets underway in just over a week in Parker.
The Turner County Fair started more than 140 years ago.
Bob Merrill started showing livestock at the Turner County Fair as a boy in the 50s.
Over the decades he’s worn several other hats during the fair, including manager and now assistant manager.
“It’s important to the people of Turner County. They love their fair and they’re willing to volunteer,” Turner County Fair assistant manager Bob Merrill said.
The current fairgrounds have been home to what’s called the “Four Best Days of Summer” since the early 1940s.
Merrill believes it was in the 70s when the fair board switched to free admission to boost attendance.
“The fair board members told me that was the biggest fight they ever had,” Merrill said.
Admission is still free today.
And if you’re craving an alcoholic beverage on the fairgrounds, you’re out of luck.
“We go to fair conventions and people will say, ‘How can you run a fair without a gate admission, without an alcohol stand?’ And we have sponsorships, and people help sponsor different events here and are very happy too,” Merrill said.
A lot has happened on the fairgrounds over the years, but one of the biggest in recent memory is the tornado that wiped out several fair buildings and damaged the grandstand in 2003.
“The tornado took the roof off. It was all laying out here,” Merrill said.
But the fair went on that year.
Manager Lavonne Meyer says attendance has grown over the years.
“It’s like the word has gotten out. We were the best kept secret for a long time, and now the word is out and they come from all over,” Turner County Fair manager Lavonne Meyer said.
Meyer also took part in 4-H decades ago, something that continues to have high participation today.
The Harriman sisters are getting ready to show their livestock once again. The Turner County Fair is an important part of their lives as well.
“It’s kind of my safe place. It’s where I got to grow up, I got to go be myself, be my own kid,” 4-H member Taylor Harriman said.
“It’s taught me to be such a good leader, so good with younger kids, teaching the next generation how good agriculture is and just to be a good leader,” 4-H mamber Kylie Harriman said.
Whether you’re showing livestock or making the trip back to your old stomping grounds, it continues to be a draw for people of all ages.
“It’s like a little class reunion every year at the fair. If anybody’s going to travel back to Parker, they’re going to do it during the fair, and so I see high school classmates here, I see old 4-H friends here that I met in the 60s and they keep coming back. I have family members that come back to this area one time a year and it’s for the fair,” Meyer said.
It’s tough for Merrill to choose a favorite memory of the fair, but there’s something he can count on every year.
“Just seeing all the happiness. The fair is fun,” Merrill said.
And it won’t be long before that tradition comes alive once again.
The Turner County Fair runs Monday, August 16th through Thursday, August 19th in Parker. There will be a free gate entry and free parking.