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Reba Coats and Mary K. Carey met at the Hardin County Fair Tuesday to celebrate Mary’s 92th birthday and to discuss a time when the future of the fair seemed anything but certain.
The fair, which was located at its current location, had been closed for several years during the Great Depression, said the sisters. In the late 1930s, Kenton vocational agriculture teacher D.B. Robinson encouraged a group of community leaders to take on the job of rejuvenating the annual event. Reba, who was 9 years old at the time and Mary, a 19-year-old school teacher, watched their father, Herb Holland, take a lead role in that effort.
Mary was busy with her first job as a teacher at the Espy Grove one-room school. She was to teach there for three months as Hardin Central’s new building was being constructed.
Their father was known in the community as “Stocky” because he was a co-owner of the Kenton stockyards and had a keen interest in helping get the fair back on its feet.
The organizers started with nothing, said Reba. The first fair board included an energetic young man named Bob Mallow, said Reba. He was the first secretary of the organization and was still a vocational agriculture student at Ohio State. Within a few years of the 1939 fair, Mallow would be killed in action in World War II, said Reba. A plaque at the grandstand commemorates his sacrifice in the war and to the fair.
“He was an only child,” she recalled. “It was very sad.”
Stocky and his wife, Opal, contacted vendors to sign contracts for the coming fair. As fall approached, Reba and Stocky transported one of Reba’s sisters to a business college in Columbus and during the trip met with B.F. Gooding who lived in Bexley. The two men negotiated a contract for Gooding to provide the rides for the fair while Reba ate a peach in Gooding’s yard.
There was much excitement in the community as the public prepared for the return of the fair, said the sisters.
“We all thought is was so exciting we were having a fair,” said Mary. “People worked awfully hard to get things done.”
There were no buildings for several years. Stocky and the other organizers built pens for the animals and the grounds came alive with colorful tents, they remembered.
“The fair was all tents for the first year or so,” said Reba. “We were the largest tent fair in Ohio for several years.”
Over the years, Reba and Mary have seen the county fair grow to the popular event of today. The reason for the fair’s success, said Mary, is the people who are so dedicated to the programs. Stocky never missed a junior fair livestock sale as long as he lived, said the ladies.
“People like my dad were willing to do whatever they needed to do to make sure things were done,” said Mary.
“We do have a very good fair,” agreed Reba.
By DAN ROBINSON
Times staff writer