Starr County Fair – 50th Anniversary, 2015
The Early Days
Did you ever wonder why we have Fairgrounds Road on the west side of Rio Grande City?As you drive next to Roque Guerra Jr. Elementary School, you will see the street sign for Fairgrounds Road. And in some cases you might have heard someone uttering the saying in Spanish “Yo vivo en la calle del Rodeo” (“I live on Rodeo Street”). Fairgrounds Road is there for a reason; and yes, it has a lot to do with our Starr County Fair history. More on this as we walk down memory lane and reflect on the 50 year history of our county fair.
Before we had a county fair, the 4H youth would gather at a designated place proposed by the county agent, Buford Dobie, including on Britton Avenue across from what is now the Compass Bank. He would organize the events and arrange for judges, and awards were presented.
The early youth fairs, sponsored by the Adult Leaders of the Starr-Grande 4-H Club in Starr County, were held at West Grammar School (now Roque Guerra Jr. Elementary) located on the street that bears its name, Fairgrounds Road, in 1966. The fair was held in January for several years. As the Starr County Show progressed, the county fair leadership decided to move the fair event to the last weekend in February, which was a week before the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show and Rodeo held in Mercedes, Texas. This change to the last week in February would allow the students to enter their 4H, FHA (now FCCLA), and FFA projects into competitions at the valley show.
A queen’s contest was added in 1976 and was sponsored by the Florence J. Scott Study Club. Eventually, organization of the event was passed on to the Starr County 4-H Council. The students would compete in country and western attire. There were no high heels, but plenty of cowgirl boots were worn throughout the contest.
Early General Chairmen of the Fair, during the years that the Fair was organized by 4-H Adult Leaders, were Javier D. “Jake” Margo, Connie Nye, and Fidencio Guerra. Mrs. Nye wrote an early history of the Fair and stated, “The first fair was financed by local raffles and donations, and 4Hers sold cookies and popcorn to cover project costs. During the first year of the Fair, there were five steers and less than 10 lambs. We had Women’s Arts and Crafts in the Senior division. It was a modest start but we knew that we had begun a new tradition in Starr County.”
A tradition grows
By the mid 1970’s, the number of entries in the County Fair grew and over 600 entries in all the categories were made by members of 4H, FHA and FFA. The entries of steers grew to almost 20 steers and over 30 lambs competing. The addition of the science fair and a county art exhibit was added, and these attracted more student participation and added more visitors. A country and western dance, parade and rodeo were also added.
In agreement with RGCCISD, the fair moved its operations to the Fort Ringgold Campus by 1976. By the mid 1990’s, the Starr County Fair moved from Fort Ringgold to the current fairgrounds on San Benito Street in Rio Grande City. The fairgrounds are located next to the Sheriff’s Posse Arena.
In 1983, the Starr County Fair Association was founded, board members were elected and this allowed the fair to grow into what we know today. The Fair continues to be an all-volunteer run event and is funded primarily through donations.
A County Fair for a new millennium
In the 21st Century, the Starr County fair sees a second generation of membership and leaders. The RGCCISD added a new high school: RGCCISD La Grulla High School. This added four to the number of high schools participating in the Fair: Rio Grande City High School, La Grulla High School, Roma High School, and San Isidro High School. The fair has added several events to the calendar and has expanded to more than just one weekend. January now also plays as an initial part of the fair. The Science Fair dropped off in the early 1990’s.
Today, the Starr County fair is a well-organized community event, and it continues to attract local and valley wide visitors. The fair has grown to several events and has expanded so that the events span several weekends. The fair currently has added the following events: Cook-Off (January), Queens Pageant (early February), and in February, scholarship awards and recognition, Live bands (Conjunto, Tejano, and Country and Western), Parade, Wild Game Dinner, and the Main Fair Weekend (three days) with carnival rides, Stock Show, Petting Zoo, and Kids’ scrambles.
An All-Volunteer Force
The Starr County Fair is 100% organized and operated by local volunteers. They are teachers, bankers, attorneys, ranchers, housewives, retirees and even military members of the Armed Forces. They all have one thing in common: they volunteer. In the mid 1990’s the Fair Association began to recognize local individual volunteers and group volunteers.
These volunteers are recognized annually and awarded recognition plaques presented to them for their selfless service to the community. Volunteerism is alive and well in our community. We are now seeing a second generation of volunteerism as the torch from the initial fair organizers is handed off to a new generation of volunteers. We are sure there is third generation out there forming.
The next 50 years
There is no doubt that the Fair will continue to grow. Our youth are our future and we are confident that the next generation of volunteers is out there to carry the torch and our legacy of the Starr County Youth Fair.
by Ross Barrera, Starr County Historian, edited