If a time-traveler could be transported from that first Brown County Youth Fair more than 60 years ago to what is now under way, he might not recognize a lot of it.
OK, he would still find a show barn full of animals, along with anxious and excited youngsters, and supportive and proud adults and parents. He would also find a hard-working team of volunteers endeavoring to make the experience positive and rewarding.
If that time-traveler could be provided with family photo albums, he might spot some of the same people; only now, those folks are no longer youngsters showing entries. Instead, they are the grandparents and great-grandparents of young people at the current exhibition.
What they would not recognize at this week’s 63rd annual event, however, is the truly outstanding facility the cumulative efforts of more than six decades of work by members and supporters of the Brown County Fair Association have provided. Even though the Youth Fair Barns and the homemaking building off the Brady Highway are used throughout the year for a variety of events, there is one week each year when several thousand of citizens take the opportunity to visit them.
And this is it.
You don’t have to be an old-timer to remember when the Youth Fair Barns were much less modern, convenient and comfortable. Today, spectators and exhibitors can move easily from the ample animal pen areas to the exhibition arena and stands, and pause for a meal and refreshments at the cafeteria. But those who have had the privilege to watch the long-term progress of the Youth Fair remember when the small office was the only retreat from the elements when the second weekend in January brought a blue-norther with it.
Ah, the Youth Fair boasts numerous traditions, and among them are the weather conditions. Ask anyone. Through the years, some of the most severe winter blasts have been experienced during Brown County Youth Fair weeks. Even when the fickle Texas weather brought sunshine and temperatures in the 60s — as it did this week — the forecast inevitably collapses into freezing cold, wind, and sometimes ice and snow. If it doesn’t, people wonder what happened.
An office is still there, of course, but our time-traveler wouldn’t recognize that place either — not with the computer and other technological devices being used to keep track of the show schedule and results. And he would also appreciate the dining area.
That time-traveler would also be impressed by the homemaking building on the far side of the parking area. Here, the style show is held in its own convenient location, and hundreds of entries in the foods, canning and crafts are displayed for all to see and appreciate.
In the background sits a major reason why all this is possible — the Earl Q. Wilson Arena, scene of the Brown County Rodeo each summer. Proceeds from this event along with the generous support of Fair Association members help generate the dollars needed to provide all these programs and facilities.
Even the most accommodating buildings are worthless unless they are used and enjoyed. Those who support our young people this week make it possible for more of them to be rewarded for their accomplishments.
This year’s Youth Fair still has two days of showing and judging left. The highlight of the week comes, as usual, on Saturday evening when the premium auction is held following the coronation of Miss Brown County Fair Association. Generous bidders use this occasion individually and collectively to thank local young people for their hard work, and those funds make it possible for youth to further their education on various levels.
The Youth Fair allows local residents to remind themselves that Brown County was founded on agriculture, and that this area prospered and grew as a business center because of it. Even after several generations of industrial diversification, a major segment of the area’s economy remains tied to agriculture. But more than all that, the Youth Fair is a way the community can contribute directly to the future success of today’s youth.
The Youth Fair stands as a celebration of our Texas heritage, and it’s also one way we can pass that heritage down to future generations.
Gene Deason is the retired editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column has appeared on Fridays, with brief interruptions, since 1977. He may be contacted by email at email@example.com.