Fair traditions woven over time

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Marie Holderness died last week at the age of 96. Yet, when people gather from all over the county Wednesday to enter their crafts, baked goods, and textile projects in the Routt County Fair, her presence will be tangible. Marie is entering one last fair project.

Her daughter, Carolyn Mon--tieth, will enter a beautifully crafted blanket in the "Mommy and Me" category to honor her mother's memory. They made it together -- Marie knitted most of the blanket before her 96th birthday, and Montieth finished the project this summer.

Montieth and her mother were born in Hayden and for a long time lived on the same street, several doors away from each other.

"My mother knit the panels when she was 95," Montieth said with a wistful smile. "I just finished the edges.

"She loved the fair. My mother always taught us the fair was a big event."

Montieth, and her mother before her, has been prolific for many decades in the large number of entries she takes to the fair each year.

"My mother would can peaches and pears for weeks," Montieth said. "She crocheted and knitted. One year, she painted roses on velveteen dresses for all of us."

Modest to a fault, Montieth overlooks the fact that last year she was presented with the Helen Sherrod Outstanding Home Artist Award for entering the most projects in the fair. She's reluctant to say how many entries she completed last year, but her husband, Jim, doesn't hesitate to estimate the total was greater than 30.

Montieth is more concerned about preserving the traditions of the fair and encouraging a new generation to take an active part in it.

Marie Holderness isn't the only longtime fair participant being remembered as the 91st fair takes place this week.

Perennial fair volunteer Dan--iel Wagner died this year. And a trio of pioneer ranchers is gone, including Lloyd Monger, who was known for saying, "Never let a cow get the best of you." Mabel Green, who was born in Dunckley Park and raced horses during her youth, died this year. So did chariot racer Clarence Wheeler, who played a prominent role in rodeos and Winter Carnival events in Steamboat Springs.

Carolyn Montieth worries that the passing of so many important personalities makes the tradition of Routt County's fair vulnerable. She would like to see more people take an active role and submit the fruits of their labor to the home arts exhibition.

"You're losing old-timers, and young people aren't filling in like they need to," she said. "The more entries you have, the better you feel if you win."

Fortunately, there are people who have moved to Routt County during their adulthoods who have gained an appreciation for the fair.

Longtime Steamboat Springs teacher Nanette Waneka was busy last week finishing seven or eight craft projects for the fair and was looking forward to baking cookies at the last minute Wednesday.

"I can remember years when my husband (Gary) drove me to the fair on Wednesday so I could finish up a quilt on the way to Hayden," Waneka said with a laugh.

Waneka does not come from an agricultural background, and

her family didn't take part in county fairs when she was a child.

"I grew up in Broomfield, when it was still a small town," she said. "I never did anything like this -- I was never in 4-H. I guess I'm a late-bloomer as far as the fair goes."

Waneka is a little chagrined to admit that her motivation wasn't entirely pure the first time she entered trays of muffins and cookies in the fair. She hoped to win ribbons and use those prizes to market a cookbook she planned to write.

Her muffins won a blue ribbon, but she never followed through on the book. Today, she enters the fair to connect with people.

"I think it's a community," she said. "People know you every year and come up to you" to talk about their entries.

This summer, she completed a felt bear designed to contain a box of tissues and several cross-stitched holiday ornaments, and a needlework sampler.

Home-arts entries are accepted at the fair's Exhibition Hall in Hayden from 1 to 8 p.m. Wednesday. Superintendents will be on hand all afternoon and into the evening to receive the entries.

Montieth will enter berry wine based on Doris Knott's historic prize-winning recipe. She will enter more than one oil painting, along with samples of knitting and crocheting. She will enter more examples of her skill and creativity than can fit in a newspaper article. And still, she'll rise before dawn Wednesday to bake her final entries.

And as she recalls her mother throughout the fair, she will begin plans to make a quilt entirely out of prize ribbons from decades of fair entries, just the way Marie Holderness once did. All of those colorful ribbons are stuffed into an old suitcase in a corner of the Montieth home, waiting for someone's creative energy to transform them into a prize-winning fair entry.

It's all about tradition.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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