Don Reeger climbed back onto his throne Thursday and looked out at the land he briefly ruled almost 40 years ago.
“It gets bigger every year,” Reeger said of the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair.
In 1975, Reeger was named king of the fair — baby king to be exact. The king and queen titles are handed out each year to two toddlers, and though they might not realize it, they are fair royalty.
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This comes with all the appropriate perks — including a prime spot in the parade lineup that helps close the final day of the celebration.
Reeger, for the first time since wearing that crown as a tot, took part in the parade, grabbing a seat of honor Thursday next to the reigning nobility. He climbed into the red convertible, and it was almost like he never left.
Maybe that’s because he didn’t.
Reeger, a Boalsburg native who now lives in Plymouth, Mass., makes an annual pilgrimage back for this. He joins family and friends and camps among the sea of recreational vehicles parked on the fairgrounds.
He thinks part of the Grange will never leave him.
“LeDon (Young), up at the Emporium, said once you get the fair dust on you, it’s on you forever,” Reeger said. “But I believe that as kids, we ate that amount of dirt inside of us, so it’s still in our bodies.”
If a lot has changed in 40 years, it’s clear kids still come away with that feeling.
Ariana Snyder, 7, of, Milesburg, sat beaming on a blanket along Rhone Street, waiting for the first sign of the parade to come into view.
When asked her about her favorite parts of the week, the words starting flying out of her mouth.
“Seeing the clown,” she said. “My mom is afraid of the clown. Playing the games and riding the rides. And I got my face painted. That was a big part because I got my butterfly. The big one. I got that one and there was glitter on it.”
And then the procession rounded the corner: the clown riding the Segway — her favorite — the high school marching bands and the 4-H’ers on their elaborate floats.
Rhone Street was packed with lawn chairs and bystanders for the parade as it passed by. It twisted its way through the fairgrounds, passing in front of tents and trailers before popping out again at the Grandstand.
The parade, which organizers said dates back 140 years to the first celebration, has become an important tradition, anticipated even though it means the fair, and with it summer, are coming to an end.
It was a bittersweet moment not lost on Evan McMullen and Aaron Little, of Bellefonte.
The 12-year-old boys, whose families both camp at the Grange, spent the week eating fair food, riding carnival rides, playing in the arcade, and hanging out and talking with friends.
It was summer vacation crammed into just a few days, but it too must end. And the boys were reminded that school is just around the corner as the last fire truck rolled by.
“I’m not happy,” Little said with a laugh. “I’m going to be sick the whole year.”