OTTAWA — Absence made the heart grow fonder at the Putnam County Fair.
COVID-19 left the 2020 fair with no rides, fewer vendors and only agricultural projects. Those all returned Monday with the opening of the 2021 fair.
“It’s really amazing to see it all coming back together this year. Last year, many of you made it up here,” said Luke Karhoff, vice president of the fair board, said during the opening ceremony as he motioned to the midway behind him. “It was pretty empty back here. They were back in the barn area, but all of this stuff up here, it wasn’t here. It was kind of shocking a little bit. We’re just so glad to be back this year.”
The fairgrounds had the feel of a pre-COVID world. Masks were rare, and people filled the midway, ready to play games, ride the rides or check out the livestock. Then there was the food.
The fair officially opened with the traditional ringing of the bell, with numerous people lining up to ring the bell 16 times.
“We’re glad to see county fairs back in session,” said Ohio Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon. “We’re glad to see a return to normalcy. We’re glad to see our traditions and our culture of these county fairs in Northwest Ohio becoming part of our summer plans again.”
The fair had its traditional Monday night, including a salute to veterans, the marching band spectacular and the coronation of the king and queen.
Caitlin Maag, of Pandora-Gilboa Grow and Show 4-H, was selected queen. Kaleb Gillespie, of Liberty Boys and Girls 4-H, was selected king.
“I was very surprised,” said Maag, who attended Pandora-Gilboa High School. “I kept telling myself all day I wasn’t going to get it because I didn’t want to get my hopes up. So I was very happy.”
Gillespie, who graduated from Leipsic High School, said it was “shocking” when he heard he won. He valued his fair experience over the years.
“It’s just making connections outside your community,” he said. “It’s cool to get to know all these great people.”
The junior fair, which was the only event in town last year, still went strong Monday. There was judging and showmanship competition for goats, rabbits, horses and sheep.
Tuesday is kid’s day at the fair, with children under 16 admitted free until 4 p.m. There will also be entertainment intended for children, including a kiddie tractor pull and bicycle giveaway. In the evening, there is harness racing scheduled.
The fair also recognized two contributors Tuesday. Mike “Spanky” Greer, who died in January, was recognized for his help with shuttling people around the fairgrounds on carts since 2009. A painting of Greer will now hang in the fair office.