Merced County Fair kickoff mines its riches: Tradition and family

04/18/2013 7:29 PM

04/23/2013 4:35 PM

There was a clear message at the Merced County Spring Fair's kick-off dinner last week: Fairs deserve funding.

Gov. Jerry Brown and the state legislature stopped providing money for fairs two years ago to deal with the state deficit.

Saturday evening, at what is typically a celebration of the Spring Fair's grand marshals and Miss May Day and her court, the lack of outside funding took center stage.

"The state took away some funding, and you guys are all here because you believe in this fair," said Scott Silveira, a fair board member. "We decided we wanted to go after corporate sponsors. We decided the way to get to those corporate sponsors -- They have boardrooms too -- is to get in there and give them a good presentation."

Silveira introduced FFA members Mackenzie Hurley, Tony Lopes, and 4-H member Cori Folaski. The trio presented a speech on what fairs mean to the youth.

"The fair is much more than just a cash cow for the San Joaquin Valley, it's a tradition," Lopes said. "For myself and thousands of others, the fair is where we started in agriculture, where we overcame challenges, where we learned the value of hard work and responsibility."

Hurley said the fair has been part of her family since 1956.

"I hope to pass on my cherished memories of those long, eventful fun days at the fair to my children," she said.

Cori said fairs are important to California agriculture.

"If we did not have 4-H or FFA programs ... where would the agriculture come from?" she asked. "I'm only 13 years old and I know that agriculture has changed my life and definitely will be a part of my future."

Jerry and Dollie O'Banion are this year's fair grand marshals. Jerry O'Banion, who is also a Merced County supervisor, said the fair is a good experience for the youth.

O'Banion challenged State Sen. Anthony Canella, R-Ceres, who attended the dinner.

"Senator Canella, it's time you guys stepped back up to the plate and give some money to the fairs," O'Banion said. "I know you can't do it alone, but I hope you have a heart and mind to do what you can."

The Merced County Spring Fair Heritage Foundation has helped with the fair's $150,000 to $180,000 annual loss in state revenue. Several donations to the fair were collected at the dinner and, according to Fair Manager Ron Brandt, the event's live auction brought in about $12,000.

The dinner was also the first official appearance of Miss May Day and her court.

Cassandra Camacho of Pacheco High School is this year's Miss May Day, while first runner-up is Dominique Alvarez, also of Pacheco High School, and Ashley Souza of Gustine High School is second runner-up.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209)388-6563 or by e-mail at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

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