Fair queen program received hasty farewell in Moffat County
Replaced with co-ed fair ambassadors
Craig — Participants and attendees at the 2016 Moffat County Fair may have noticed something different when it came time for the ribbons to be handed out: the Moffat County Fair queens had disappeared.
The program that enlisted girls from the junior, intermediate and senior 4-H categories and put them in charge of promoting the fair and keeping the event running smoothly had been replaced by a new, co-ed concept: fair ambassadors.
The decision was made by the Moffat County Fair Board at the end of 2014, but not everyone was pleased with the change, which broke with a more than 60-year-old tradition.
“People have come to me and said, ‘What happened to the queens? They did such a good job,’” said Joanne Roberson, one of two advisors that oversaw the fair queens program alongside cohort Alisa Comstock.
But the new ambassador program, drawn from the example of Mesa County, sought to engage both girls and boys from the 4-H Council to carry out the same responsibilities as the fair queens.
“The program itself was not, in our opinion, really thriving. Fewer and fewer and fewer girls were involved, so we were just trying to figure out a way to make it a stronger situation,” said Kelly Hepworth, who served as Fair Board president when the decision was made.
But any change, especially one involving a tradition as long-standing as the fair queens, doesn’t happen without some growing pains, and some community members were sad to see it go.
“Kids are coming to me and saying, ‘Why aren’t we having queens anymore? That’s what I wanted to do,’” Roberson said.
The fair queen program served a much greater purpose than to simply keep the fair running smoothly, she added. It helped girls learn confidence, provided them opportunities to represent their community both locally and in other counties and taught them useful skills.
“I believe the program helped me build a work ethic,” said 2013 senior fair queen Kayla Hall. “I wanted to be at every event I could to help and support the 4-H members that were showing or presenting that day. It’s a grueling schedule, especially when the days are long and hot, but I always wanted to sit through it because I knew what I had signed up for.”
To be selected, the girls gained useful experience in filling out an application similar to a resume and interviewing before a panel of judges.
“It really is a great program for young ladies. It helped prepare me for college and I can guarantee I’ll use the skills learned from that program in my everyday adult life,” Hall said, who is now studying elementary education at Chadron State University.
Hall was the only girl to apply at first to be a 2013 fair queen, she said, but the program ended up with a full slate of six girls after she reached out across all three age groups to raise more interest.
When the decision to disband the fair queen program was made, it was in part the lack of communication that left a sour taste in Roberson’s mouth.
“They never called us in, they sent us a letter and that was it,” Roberson said, who received the letter at the end of December 2014. “I think they needed to ask the kids first.”
The Fair Board discussed the change in their meeting Nov. 11, 2014, where several board members said they would “write a letter to determine the interest of the advisors,” according to meeting minutes. But the board passed a motion that same evening to transition to the new ambassador program for the 2016 fair, and the queen program advisors never received that letter, Roberson said.
December meeting minutes revealed that the board amended the motion to simply suspend the queen program, and the 4-H Council and junior leaders would assume those responsibilities pending approval from Colorado State University Extension Agent JD Sexton. A new letter would be written and mailed to the advisors announcing the decision.
“I know there’s a lot of emotion in the community, and it wasn’t meant to be exclusive, it was meant to be more inclusive,” Hepworth said, adding that he could see the board bringing fair royalty back if the community showed enough support.
Fair Board member Mardi Anson acknowledged the board’s handling of the matter created some upset, but was still hopeful about the new ambassador program.
“Most of the girls that signed up for queens are part of the council, and we just thought it would be a unique way to get boys and girls involved,” Anson said. “We have a new society now… so this just seemed like a good healthy fit for our fair.”