2023 - 2024 CITRUS COUNTY FAIR OFFICERS
President - Paul McPherson
Vice President - Charlie Simmons
Treasurer - Bob Iverson
Secretary - Kandi McPherson
Past President - Lee Earl Stokes
The Citrus County Fair Association is an organization of volunteers united to showcase the talent of the youth of Citrus County; to provide scholarship and scholarship opportunities; provide the community with agricultural, educational, and cultural pursuits, thereby adding to the quality of life for its residents.
Exhibits at the annual Citrus County Fair consist of Agriculture, Horticulture, Livestock, 4-H, FFA, Fine Arts, Extension Homemakers, local churches and civic groups, plus business people exhibiting their wares. Hand-crafted items by men, women, and children and school exhibits are also on review. In addition to the exhibits there is a midway with rides, sideshows, and games. Entertainment is furnished by local as well as professional entertainers who come from others counties or out of state.
Food, such as popcorn, ice cream, sandwiches, pizza, or complete meals can be purchased. This is considered a time to have good clean fun which is geared to entertain a person or entire families.
HISTORY OF THE CITRUS COUNTY FAIR
The first minutes found with reference to the Citrus County Fair are dated October 5, 1920. Mr. Dorsett, County Extension Agent, was advising the Board of County Commissioners of a change in Fair dates to the 14th and 15th of December, 1920 to hold a Fair in Lecanto.
This County Fair was an outgrowth of several previous 4-H exhibits organized by the County Agent and the Home Demonstration Agent. Their 4-H Shows had been held in a tin building in Lecanto. February 1, 1926 the Board of County Commissioners went on record as favoring an annual fair, dates to be hereafter determined as well as place.
January 4, 1927 the Board of County Commissioners adopted a resolution declaring January 21, 1927 as a legal holiday due to the Fair and West Coast Highway Association meetings in Crystal River. A request was made for business houses and public business be suspended for that day.
The next major discussion was June, 1933; a motion was made by the Board of County Commissioners not to move any more material from Lecanto without the Citrus County Fair Association and Board of County Commissioners approval. During this period of time the Board of County Commissioners approved the citizens that serve as Directors of the Fair Association, some Commissioners also served on the Board. Small amounts of tax monies were allocated to assist in running the Fair. This is no longer the case. However, we do have full use of the auditorium during the Fair.
The first Miss Citrus County Beauty Pageant was organized in 1930. This is now known as the Miss Citrus County Scholarship Pageant, which qualified our contestants to participate in the Miss Florida Pageant and/or The Miss America Pageant. Our first Jr. Miss Citrus County was organized in 1985. This also changed to Miss Teen Citrus County Beauty Pageant in 1987. Later it was changed to Miss Teen Scholarship Pageant. The Little Miss and Mr. Pageants, Decorated Diaper and pre-teen pageants are also held, either the Sunday prior or during the Fair.
A School Day was also set aside in 1947. Students were bused to the fairgrounds on Friday. The busing is no longer in operation but the day is still recognized by the Fair Association and the Citrus County School Board.
Records are unclear about moving the Fair from Lecanto to Inverness, however the first Fair was held in Inverness on the football field at Citrus High School January, 1947. Tents were used to house the exhibits. These were loaned to Citrus County Fair by the carnival company. The second night of the Fair in 1947, a windstorm blew down the main exhibit tent, destroying all the exhibits. After this disaster, a Fair Association was chartered. After the formation of the Association a donation of land from the Board of County Commissioners, was acquired, our present Fairgrounds, located 1/2 mile south of Inverness, on Highway 41 and it covers approximately 28 acres. The original donation was 45 acres.
The first Fair on these grounds was in 1948. The Citrus County Fair Association retains title to the property so long as a Fair is held each year. If a Fair is not held for a period of three years, the property would revert to the county.
Belle City Amusements, a Florida Midway, owned by the Charles Panacek family was the first midway on the new grounds and continues to the present. Midnight Madness was started on Thursday nights from 9 to 1 am, giving unlimited rides for one price, hand stamps were first used, later wristbands were used and the name was changed to Midnight Magic. Several wristband opportunities have been added for various times and days.
Most of the Pioneer families were represented on the original Board of Directors and many of these people served for years donating their time, labor and money. While others took notes on a long term basis at a low rate of interest so that the Fair could continue to grow. Growth in the early years was painfully slow due to limited funds and a small population.
James E. Rooks, Sr. was the first President of the Citrus County Fair Association serving from 1942 to 1948.
Bonds were floated to start building and the first concrete block building was erected immediately, the Levins Building. Director Harley Levins spent many hours on this building. The tin building from the 4-H site in Lecanto was moved to the new grounds And used as a Livestock Complex.
In 1955, a request was made to build a 1/4 mile dirt race track, which the Board of Directors of the Fair Association ran for several years before it was first leased to Leonard Damron. The track was later paved with asphalt and has been re-paved periodically. After a short time the Board of Directors renegotiated the lease and the bid went to the West Coast Racing Association, with improvements and operated by various promoters the racetrack has grown over the years. Grandstand boxes were constructed by Fun Racing, Inc. on the pit side of the track. Several state-wide special races have been held including NASCAR sanctioned truck races where Mark Martin’s son drove.
In 1966 Paula Stanley Johnson, Quentin Medlin, Wilbur and Helen Langley traveled the state looking for a steel building to be used as an auditorium. The current auditorium was built in 1967. The Auditorium was turned over to the County in the early 70's for operational services due to the fact the Fair Association did not have any permanent employees. The Fair Association retained ownership of the parking lot and is allowed full use of the auditorium during the Fair, the annual meeting, and the volunteer appreciation dinner.
In 1965 the Jacobs Building was erected. This was named after Charles “Jake” Jacobs a volunteer who was “an old carney” or carnival worker. Jake taught us how to count “joints” (midway concession stands and games) and make collections.
In 1975 the Baker Miley Building was built between the Levins Building and the Jacobs Building. The Baker Miley Building included a snack bar where, for many years, civic associations put on dinners during the Fair. After that the Homemakers baked bread there and sold it for 25 cents a loaf. The smell of the bread baking drew people to the building where the competitive exhibits are held. Baker Miley was a director who made many contributions to the Fair.
In 1977, a 12' X 60' trailer was purchased as a point of coordinating all Fair business and was later used as the headquarters for the Livestock Committee. In 1977 Mrs. Jean Grant was hired as the first manager; the previous managers were County Extension Agents.
In 1979 the Riggs building was built on the other side of the Jacobs Building. This began as a red steel clear span building. It was later painted gray to match the rest of the buildings. The building was named for Inez and Raymond Riggs who ran the flea market for many years. In the late 70s Helen Langley took over management of the flea market and ran it until 2008. She and her husband Wilbur, an honorary life director, also ran the snack bar in the Miley building on Saturdays. In 2009 the flea management contract was awarded to Kathy Johnson and hours were expanded to include Fridays. The market closes during July and August.
In 1980 the building at the main entrance was built and named after Eleanor Bonifield who was in charge of Horticulture exhibits for many years.
In the early 1980s a grant was received from the State of Florida with the help of State Representative Dick Locke and the first part of a new barn was built and a few years later a pig barn was added. The Livestock complex is named for Quentin Medlin, County Agent for many years and, in those days, the county agent was also the Fair Manager. Mr. Medlin served in the early 70s followed by Art Alson and Gene Pyle.
The building known as the "Little Red Schoolhouse" was moved on to the grounds in 1983, buying it from the School Board for $6,000.00. Otto Allen was President at the time and the building was later named in his honor. It was later voted to allow the Citrus County Railroad club full use of the building to show their model railroads and they would be open during Flea Market hours and during the Fair. The railroad club has made many improvements to the building and, with the help of the Fair Association, installed central air conditioning and a new ceiling.
The Fair Association built a new office in 1986 at the rear of the Levins Building. New restrooms were built on the east side of the Fairgrounds adjacent to the “Little Red Schoolhouse,” now also gray to match the rest of the buildings.
In 1986 Jean Grant became President of the Florida Federation of Fairs & Livestock Shows, Inc. and served until 1987.
In 1988 was our first effort to have a nine day Fair. After the nine day Fair it was decided by the Board of Directors to return to a six day Fair in 1989. The three extra days were not as profitable as expected, in addition to the wear on a small staff and volunteers.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Citrus County Fair Association, in cooperation with the Citrus County Commission, provided a county exhibit at the State Fair in Tampa. Several first place ribbons were received as well as a district first place award.
In 1990 new restrooms were built at the main entrance, restrooms with showers were built in the race track/midway area.
In 1990 the Dr. Dumas Scholarship was established in honor of Dr. Ron Dumas for his many contributions to the livestock program for decades.
In 1992, due to overcrowding of the Citrus County Jail, Judge Edwards ordered that the Citrus County Auditorium be converted into a temporary jail. A chain link fence went down the middle of the walkway between the “jail” and Fair office. The pageants had to be moved to Curtis Peterson Auditorium and a tent had to be rented to provide entertainment. The tent went in the area of the horse arena.
On March 13, 1993 prior to the opening of the Fair the “No Name” storm came through and blew the huge tent down and also toppled one of the big rides belonging to Belle City Amusements.
In 1997 Jean Grant was elected to the Florida Federation of Fairs Hall of Fame.
In 1999 the horse arena was named for Eloise VanNess. Eloise was a director for many years and was involved in horse shows and 4-H. An announcer’s stand was added to the arena.
In 1999 Hal Porter, Director and Past President was voted most outstanding Florida 4-H Alumni.
In July 0f 2000 we were hosts, for the first time, of the Florida Federation of Fairs Summer Workshop. Over 100 were in attendance from throughout the state.
In January 2000 the Annual Antique Tractor Show & Pull was started as a two day event. On the first day of the tractor pull a ceremony was held to raise the Flag. A large concrete pole was installed near the Fair office courtesy of David & Brenda LaPerle of LaPerle's Crane Service. The flag and rope were donated by C.L. Calloway and Withlacoochee Electric. In 2001 it was changed to a three day event on the last week-end in January. The event was so successful that three new scholarships were awarded in the Youth Exhibit Division. An essay was required stating why the student exhibited at the Fair. In 2001 there were nine entries and three $500.00 scholarships were awarded. Since then scholarships have been added, and awarded in memory of David and Brenda LaPerle. The first year equipment was rented or borrowed, the next year a sled was purchased and a scale. Antique tractors were phased out as exhibitors, though many still pull. In 2010 the pull was dedicated in memory of David LaPerle (1948-2009) who was one of the organizers and later chairman of the event, David was also Past President of the Association 84-87, 92-94. In 2015 the pull was returned to a two day event.
In 2000, courtesy of Sumter Electric, the electrical service on the midway was buried, eliminating poles and increasing safety. The same year a cart path was established and all golf carts or other vehicles were eliminated from the grounds, including the midway.
The first volunteer appreciation dinner was held in 2000 in the Riggs building, the following year a cart path was established on the perimeter of the grounds thus eliminating golf carts on the grounds during Fair hours.
New air conditioned gate houses were constructed for the main gate, exhibitor gate, and livestock gate and an information booth was placed near the flag pole.
In the summer of 2001 a truck pull was held, though profitable it was discontinued and trucks became a part of the annual tractor pull.
In 2001 the Florida Federation of Fairs established the Blue Ribbon program, judging and awarding Fairs on their merit. The Citrus County Fair was awarded a blue ribbon the first year and every year since., until discontinued.
In 2002 just prior to the opening of the Fair the lone tree on the midway disappeared without a trace.
In 2003 the Fair office was expanded to add additional offices and storage area, this took part of the western end of the Levins building.
In 2004 five hurricanes affected the State of Florida: Bonnie, Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne, the fairgrounds became an emergency operations center for the Citrus County Sheriff’s office and FEMA. The Riggs building was used to house supplies and water.
After receiving a grant from the State of Florida with the help of State Senator Nancy Argenziano and State Representative Charles Dean, the Eleanor Bonifield Horticulture Building was air conditioned and with the same grant in 2004 the beginning of a 175 x 150 roof over the area was constructed, being phase one of two phases. The first event held in the new arena was the 4-H Citrus Stampede Rodeo, followed by the annual tractor pull. The livestock program was held for the first time under the covered arena during the 2005 Fair. A cattle camp and a swine camp was held and has become a yearly event.
In October 2006 Manager Jean Grant was made Fair Manager Emeritus and Hal Porter was hired as Fair Manager.
In 2007 after receiving a grant from the State of Florida, with the help of State Senator Charles Dean phase 2 of the roof over the arena was started and completed in 2008. This phase included 5,000 grandstand seats. Again the first event held in the completed arena was 4-H Citrus Stampede Rodeo, followed by the 2009 Annual Tractor Pull. The first livestock events were held during the 2009 Fair.
In 2008 Doris Graska, Director/Past President, was elected President of the Florida Federation of Fairs, Inc. and the same year we hosted the Summer Workshop for the second time. At the IAFE annual convention in Las Vegas, Doris was presented the Heritage Award, recognizing recipients for volunteer service. The Fair Association received $500.00 as part of the award.
Over the years many of the Directors of the Citrus County Fair Association have held chairmanships and been members of committees of the Florida Federation of Fairs & Livestock Shows, Inc. A majority of the directors attend the annual meeting of the Federation held each year in May in various areas of the state.
In December 2008 a Scholarship was established in memory of Jean Grant (1926-2008).
In 2008 the association was designated Outstanding Community Organization by the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce.
In 2014 Doris Graska was elected to the Florida Federation of Fairs Hall of Fame.
In 2015 a scholarship was established in memory of Nell Mayberry, Past President and a scholarship was established in memory of Ginger Porter.
In 2015 again with the help of Senator Charles Dean, a grant was received to make various improvements to the grounds, with work beginning in early 2016.
In May of 2015 Fair Manager Hal Porter was elected to the Board of Directors of the Florida Federation of Fairs and was reelected to a two year term in 2016. Work on the re-roof of the livestock complex and new wiring in all of the buildings is in progress. The racetrack closed due to default of promoter. In July 2016 the racetrack was re-opened with a new promoter that invested several thousand dollars in improvements.
The Citrus County Board of Directors is composed of 25 members who are elected at the Association’s annual meeting in June. The term of office is two years, with 13 members elected one year and 12 the next. The officers of the association are elected at the July meeting. Membership is open to all Citrus County residents age 18 and over. Membership privileges include admission to the Fair and Pageants and the opportunity to volunteer in many areas of the Fair.
Honorary Life Membership has been given to very few. Those are: Quentin Medlin, former County Agent/Manager/Past President; Paula Stanley Johnson, County Extension Agent/Director and Secretary of the Association; Wilbur Langley, Past President/Director; Wilma Anderson, Director/Admissions Chairman/Exhibits Chairman; Dick Locke, Director/State Representative; Spike Fitzpatrick, Director/Attorney; Frances & Valentine Rooks, Directors; Eloise VanNess, Director/4-H leader and in 2011 Charles E. Davis, Board Member & Treasurer for more than 25 years, Nell Mayberry, who served as president for many years, Larry Rooks, past president, Nancy Rooks who served as secretary for several years. In 2016 Senator Charles S. Dean and Dr. Ron Dumas were made Honorary Directors.
The fairgrounds and buildings are rented for various activities in order to support our non-profit Fair, to continue to be self-supporting without receiving any country, state or federal operational funding.