90th annual fair kicks off with sunshine, smiles

Cyrus Wheeler, right, gets covered in whipped cream during a pie-eating contest at the fair. The 11-year-old boy from Buckley out-ate his 13-year-old brother, Max, to the left.  - Ben Watanabe/ The Record
Cyrus Wheeler, right, gets covered in whipped cream during a pie-eating contest at the fair. The 11-year-old boy from Buckley out-ate his 13-year-old brother, Max, to the left.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe/ The Record

The Whidbey Island Area Fair kicked off Thursday, bringing lots of sunshine but sparse crowds.

Whether it was the 74-degree heat, which felt like 90 when the breeze didn’t blow, or that the start of the event always falls on a workday, lines were short and there was plenty of elbow room throughout the fairgrounds. It didn’t seem to dampen the moods of those who did attend, however. Much of the day was devoted to animal judging and children’s activities, from the cat and dog showing to hula hoop and pie-eating contests, and smiles were everywhere.

For 11-year-old Cyrus Wheeler of Buckley, the pie-eating contest was particularly fun. There was a bit of sibling rivalry involved, and victory made the competition all the sweeter. He edged out a dozen other children, including his older brother Max, 13.

The father of one of the hula hoop champions, Riley Pirkle of Mount Vernon, said he relished taking his family to the Whidbey fair because it maintains its “small-town” feel.

An event that was particularly entertaining was  the cat agility exhibition. Held in the Blackbox Theatre, a throng of people  were eager to see what exactly cat agility entails and they were not disappointed. The crowd was treated to an impressive display of five felines being led by a leash through an obstacle course that took them over high-step bars, a jump bar, and through a tunnel. All but one cat, Dolly led by 13-year-old Coupeville girl Emma Blanchette, made it through the course [with ample help from the handlers]. It came as no surprise to Emma, who said her all-white cat was more likely to flatten itself on the floor than willingly do the agility course.

“She just sort of sits down,” Emma said before the event began.

Like a prophet, Emma was right. The cat, despite being prompted with treats, took one look at the impending horizontal ladder and laid down on the floor, drawing a hearty laugh from the crowd.

Another riotous opportunity was at the expense of a handful of brave souls willing to be dropped into a tank of cool water. Run as a fundraiser for both the Whidbey Children’s Theater and Ryan’s House for Youth, the dunk tank saw plenty of action as people took their aim to drop Jimmy Dix, an actor in this year’s Island Shakespeare Festival. In the span of 15 minutes, he fell four times, twice to the same man who was later revealed to have been a former baseball pitcher.

Inside some of the structures, 4-H folk waited to show off their wares. At the fiber arts barn, the legacy of shearing wool, spinning yarn, weaving fabrics, knitting, using a loom and other hand crafts lived on. Quilt superintendent Anita M. Smith said since she has taken over the fair display, the entries grew from 30 quilts to 60, and this year 77 were turned in for judging. The largest and perhaps grandest was the “Storm at Sea” by Rita Clein, a 111-by-111 foot masterpiece.

A far smaller attraction awaited children at the pony rides, a fair staple. Vanessa Ridgeway, owner-operator of the ponies, said her family has brought the tiny horses for years as she cleaned and clipped Cashew’s hoof during a rare lull in rides.

“I grew up with ponies and we had about a hundred when I was little,” she said.

The fair continued Friday, and will be held today and Sunday.


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