Everyone had their paper chickens on a stick, and the music was cued up and ready.
It was time for the first Chicken Dance of this year’s Grange Fair to begin.
In her 11th year as the fair’s librarian, J.A. Babay led the way, as she has every August for almost a decade. Dressed in her trademark cowboy hat, denim skirt and red cowboy boots, she guided a procession of more than 40 children into the plaza next to the fair headquarters.
Around a flock of stuffed chickens, the dancers circled. Then, to polka music and DJ Tiny Young’s commands, they flapped their wings, pecked their beaks and wiggled their tail feathers, with Babay the lead chicken in the middle.
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Before leaving, everyone received a chicken hat for their efforts. Babay got a compliment.
“Your timing was excellent,” an audience member said.
Babay will be back in action at 5 p.m. Friday, the daily time for the dance for the rest of the fair. It’s just one of the many library activities Babay organizes for young fairgoers. Every day, she leads a “behind-the-scenes” educational field trip to an area of the fair, such as the dairy barn or the midway rides.
“There’s more to that carnival business than you think,” she said. “There’s so much to learn here.”
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Brenda Fetters’ face turned red.
She got off a bench at Jubilee Grove near the headquarters building, walked up to Fair Committee President Ben Haagen and accepted a plaque with a clock and special inscription on it.
She’d been picked as the fair’s person of the year.
Touched by the platitudes — “always willing to help wherever she is needed,” as Haagen said in announcing her honor — Fetters broke into tears.
The award was handed out during early Thursday evening during the fair’s opening ceremony.
Rosemary Broome was given the year’s friend of the fair honor during the ceremony, and fair officials also unveiled a new logo for the upcoming 140th event. The logo is simpler, losing the farm icons in favor of a tent and a Ferris wheel.
Fair organizers also accepted a $21,558.60 check from the state toward reimbursing the fair for the $70,000 in prize money doled out last year. Fair Manager Darlene Confer said that money will be used for next year’s fair.
— Chris Rosenblum and Mike Dawson