By Cindy Baldwin, special to the Free Press
?65 Years Off Highway 56? is the theme for the 2013 edition of the McPherson County Fair as the event celebrates 65 years of exhibits, fun and special events on the fairgrounds located on the northern edge of Canton.
This year?s fair promises to offer events that have proven popular over the years as well as some new twists.
The fair opens Wednesday, July 17, with a co-ed ranch rodeo and draws to a climax Sunday with a demolition derby.
In between, fair-goers are treated to five days filled with: 4-H, open and commercial exhibits; a junior rodeo on Thursday night; a Kansas State Fair qualifying pedal-tractor pull, Friday and Saturday night; performances of CPRA Rodeo, the free barbecue and watermelon feed on Friday night; two fair dances following the rodeo performances; and the fair parade down Canton?s Main Street Saturday at 6 p.m.
All events occur on the fairgrounds except for the parade on Main Street and the fair dances, which will be at Kelly?s Bar and Grill in downtown Canton.
Derby car drawing
A new feature of the demolition derby will be a special heat serving as a fundraiser for Kaiden Schroeder, 8-year-old son of Chris and Jenny Schroeder of McPherson.
Kaiden, who has been diagnosed with leukemia, is recovering from a bone marrow trans???plant from his little sister, Ashlyn, in February. A car modified for the derby by area drivers has been donated in Kaiden?s name to be driven in the derby?s feature heat.
For a $5 donation, individuals can buy a ticket that, if drawn after the consolation heat, gives the winning individual the option of driving Kaiden?s car in the final heat.
People are encouraged to support the cause even if they don?t want to drive the car in the derby. The winner has the option of designating a driver. Or, the winner can opt to have another ticket drawn.
The driver must have a current Kansas driver?s license and be at least 18 years old, or have a legal guardian sign a notarized paper giving someone under 18 permission to drive.
Andrea Potter, a derby organizer, said Kaiden loves the derby and the Kansas State Wildcats. Proceeds from the sale of purple derby shirts will be applied to Kaiden?s expense fund.
Tickets and shirts will be on sale the night of the derby. Dona?tions also can be made by contacting Potter at 620-242-4808.
?We are working hard in this 65th year of the McPherson County Fair to make this year?s derby extra special for this family,? Potter said. ?Chris has driven in past derbies, but with medical expenses, has had to put driving on hold. This is the next best thing for Kaiden, so please pass the word and come help us.?
The McPherson County Fair Association was formed Feb. 19, 1948, when the boards of the Canton Frolic and the Fair Association combined. The first president was Sam Bolin, a resident of Canton.
Board members approached the McPherson Chamber of Commerce about hosting a county fair, but when they found no interest, the board decided to purchase land on the north edge of Canton to develop the McPher?son County Fair?grounds.
The fair was launched in summer the same year. The fairgrounds had no buildings, so most of the events were in tents or in the open on Canton?s Main Street.
By the early 1950s, the first buildings were built on the fairgrounds; in the 1960s and 1970s two metal buildings were added to house exhibits.
In 1994 another exhibit building was erected, and in 2008 the concession and restroom building was added, greatly improving the fairground amenities.
Over the years, improvements have been made to the rodeo arena and livestock barns. A covered livestock show arena is planned, with the expectation it will be ready for the 2014 fair.
Two long-running events
Fair events also have evolved over the years, but two most closely associated with the fair have been staples from nearly the beginning. The fair rodeo debuted in 1949 and the free barbecue and watermelon feed was launched in 1954.
Now sponsored by the McPher?son County Oil Produ?cers and beef producers, the barbecue features beef burgers cooked by members of the Can?ton Volunteer Fire Department.
The other event that draws a large crowd each year is the demolition derby, always the final event of fair week on Sunday night. The derby made its fair debut in 1982 and quickly became a fan favorite.