Ron Crook, the longest known fair manager in Oregon history, was all smiles when he spoke at Docia Sweet Hall last Friday for a retirement party in his honor.
The departing fair manager was awarded a large wall plaque, a service pin for more than 47 years of service, a gift certificate to a spa and a gag gift of a dusting cloth — to remind him to “keep coming back to help out.”
Past and present fair board members, the Friends of the Fair and Curry County Commissioner Court Boice were on hand. Boice served as master of ceremonies.
A display of photographs captured decades of Crook at his best — riding a Texas longhorn bull, with a friend hoisting a young alligator aloft for a toothy selfie, in full scuba gear and, of course, pictured with a pan of blue-ribbon bread rolls, his specialty.
Crook has been the heartbeat of the Curry County Fair since 1971, and in the 1990s, also headed the Coos County Fair as well.
A brief sabbatical followed with Crook “trying out” retirement a few years back before the fair board asked him to help rescue a fair that had hit the skids because of repairs needed to the 1930s campus. Deteriorating roofs and dry rot were at the forefront.
Former Curry County Commissioner Lucie LaBonté said, “The fair was $50,000 in the red, the buildings were falling into disrepair. We (the fair board) looked at each other and said, ‘We can’t hold a fair this year unless we get Ron back.’
“Fortunately, Ron decided to come back, rolled up his sleeves and got to work establishing the nonprofit Friends of the Fair catering group to fund repairs to the roofs that were in the worst shape. Thanks to his leadership he leaves the fair in good shape — $90,000 in the black,” she said.
Crook has learned how to put on “a pretty good fair. Its been a mission of joy even if the job can be stressful,” Crook said.
“The fair is the one time of the year when people from all parts of the county come together to see each other and to have a really good time.”
Crook caught the ‘fair bug’ at an early age. His family were pioneers who settled the Pistol River area. Ron’s great-great-grandfather Thomas H. Crook was an avid fan of racing horses in the late 1880s. That love of horses was passed down from father to son. His family attended fairs and young Ron became a member of the 4-H program.
It helped that most of the Crook family was involved with fairs. When his grandparents and the Turner family, who together owned a cow pasture, were approached by the fair board for a site on which to build the fairgrounds, they agreed.
Furthermore, Ron only had to look as far as his dad, Harvey Crook, to head up a free lamb barbecue event, or his brother Bill, who was the fair manager from 1967 to 1969, or Bill’s wife, Jackie Crook, who served on the fair board, or nephew, James Crook, who volunteered to build the showcase building floors.
So when the opportunity to be fair manager presented itself in 1971, Ron jumped at the chance and never looked back.
Crook has many memories.
“The people and all the great volunteers I have worked with over the years,” he said “We wouldn’t have a fair without them. I enjoyed the quilting and floral displays personally, but I would have to say a good fair is always changing with the times.
“We earned the very first small fairs gold medallion for excellence from the County Fair Commission and we have several on the wall in the office.”
The fair today
Crook told the audience that keeping the fair going has not always been easy. In 1993 the county faced budgetary shortfalls and cut the fair from its budget.
“We were on our own,” Crook said.
With no benefactors on the horizon, the prospects for the fair continuing seemed dim. It meant coming up with new sources of revenue to deal with the building repairs.
Crook explored ways with help from Gold Beach volunteer Brad Wentworth to develop stop gap measures “to keep the wheel on the wagon,” including the creation of the fair friends and renaming the fairgrounds The Event Center on the Beach to attract groups to rent the grounds for their activities.
He also masterminded renting out buildings to OSU Extension, Southwestern Oregon Community College, Soil and Water Conservation and an RV park.
Crook said even after all that, the fair’s financial load for upkeep was “like a car headed for a wall at 65 mph — until the city of Gold Beach designated a 1 percent transient lodging tax, which generates money for maintenance.
Nikki Sparks will fill Crook’s spot as the fair manager. The five-year fair office manager understands filling her mentor’s shoes won’t be easy but says she is ready for the challenge.
“Although retired now, Ron promised me he would be around to answer questions I may have and I appreciate that.”
Crook said he wants to visit Peru, but this area is his home.
“I will most likely be just hanging around, although definitely in the background ... as a helper.”