Every state fair memory has memorable person behind it

Willie Nelson;http://willienelson.com/[URL] takes the blue ribbon, but the country legend had real competition for a top spot on my list of great [/URL]Evergreen State Fair;http://www.evergreenfair.org/[URL] memories.

Since moving to Snohomish County in 1981, I have missed maybe one year at the Monroe fair. It always has that same homespun feeling, from the first step into those entry tunnels. Yet after each visit, there’s something new to remember.

Here’s a sampling of my best times at the Evergreen State Fair.

BEST GRANDSTAND SHOW: I have seen some truly memorable concerts — Bob Marley at Seattle’s Paramount and Tony Bennett at last year’s Bumbershoot were just a couple.

None were any better than Willie Nelson’s 2000 grandstand concert at the Evergreen State Fair. For two hours, on a weeknight in Monroe, an engaging Nelson crooned hit after hit, “Crazy” to “On the Road Again.”

I was in great company. My friend and former Herald colleague Christina Harper was with me that night. We enjoyed watching then-Snohomish County Executive [/URL]Bob Drewel;http://www.psrc.org/about/public/bobbio/[URL], on his feet and in a cowboy hat, dancing to Willie’s tunes. Nelson is back in the area Friday night for a concert at [/URL]Marymoor Park;http://www.kingcounty.gov/recreation/parks/inventory/marymoor/concerts.aspx[URL]. He may have forgotten that Monroe show, but I never will.

BEST FAIR SURPRISE: Drewel instigated this wild ride for one of my kids. We were strolling through the fair’s arena when my husband, Jim, spotted Drewel on horseback. My husband, who died in 1998, was a Herald reporter who covered county government at the time.

As Drewel chatted, our little girl admired his horse. Without warning, the county executive scooped her into the saddle and took her for a brisk ride. It was a bit scary for me, but what a terrific memory for my girl. She’s now a mom planning to bring my grandson to the fair.

BEST FAIR PERSONALITY: [/URL]Doug Moening;http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20080302/NEWS01/891426201[URL] was the Evergreen State Fair’s official announcer. Twice I had the pleasure of meeting him there. He was just 54 when he died of a heart attack in 2008.

Years ago, I was invited by Moening and his wife, Stephanie, to serve as a “celebrity” judge for a food contest, tasting and rating homemade salsa. A regional stage actor, Moening lent ham-it-up humor and charm to his fair duties. He put this novice food judge at ease.

In 2003, I reconnected with Moening when I went to the fair to write about a goofy event, a husband-calling contest. There weren’t many brave entrants, so fair insiders Moening and his wife — Stephanie Hagarty still serves on the [/URL]Fair Advisory Board;http://www.evergreenfair.org/fair-advisory-board.aspx[URL] — got into the act. They were bested by a Monroe woman, dressed in farmer overalls, who hollered, “Y’all seen my husband?” and let out a howl sounding like the pig call “soooiiieee.”

Fair goers are missing another personality, [/URL]Gerry Andal;http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20110311/NEWS01/703119816[URL]. Snohomish County’s singing cowboy was 68 when he died in 2011 after heart surgery. I never got to meet Andal, whose band, Gerry Andal and the Roughriders, was a popular act on the fair’s Courtyard Stage. A restaurateur and longtime car dealer, Andal often was joined by his friend Drewel, both on horseback, to open the fair’s rodeo.

BEST FAIR FOOD: For me, there’s no contest. The fair treat I want is a rich but refreshing Purple Cow — blackberry ice cream and 7-Up with a splash of blackberry syrup — sold at the Snohomish County Dairy Women’s booth. My other favorite fair snack is Lions Club corn on the cob.

A year ago, [/URL]food writer Cassandra VanKeuren;http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20120830/ENT/708319961[URL] posed a question in The Herald: “Can you go to the Evergreen State Fair and not have fried food?” Sure, that’s my answer.

BEST FAIR SOUVENIR: Anyone going to the fair with kids is sure to come home with stuff. From kitschy vendors, my kids have gotten foam lizards on wire leashes and buzzers meant to startle if you shake hands. My son-in-law won a stuffed gorilla in a midway game, a giant thing that ended up in my boy’s room. Our dearly departed goldfish, “Gill,” was a fair midway prize, won by throwing a ping-pong ball into a fishbowl.

I have a personal fair memento. In 2006, my older son took a job in the fairgrounds parking lot. The job was 12 straight days, with long hours made longer by bus rides from Everett to Monroe and back.

After the fair ended, I received email from his supervisor. I still have it. My son’s boss said that every day of the fair “he came across as one who is polite, intelligent, friendly, and who knows how to be a gentleman.”

On his last day, the supervisor coaxed my son into doing a “happy dance.” And she asked for the first time if he was my boy. In the email, she wrote: “With a big smile, he said yes, reached out and gave me a firm handshake, and we said our goodbye. Good job, Mom!”

That note is my best-ever keepsake. It’s a reminder that the Monroe fair — with all its livestock, games, food and carnival rides — is Snohomish County’s best party because of its people.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.[/URL]

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