It's fair time in Warren County, Iowa, and I had a great time there yesterday with my dad and my three sons.
The boys earned ribbons in the pie-eating contest (Will got first place in his heat and third overall for his age group, and Luke and Jake got second and third in their heat). They also raced in the big trike races and walked away with more ribbons. We strolled through the livestock barns, where we saw bunches of the boys' friends and their animals. We admired the flowers in the horticulture barn, the arts and crafts, and all the exhibits. We had lunch at the beef producers' tent, followed by a funnel cake.
I saw friends from high school, cousins, and neighbors. It was a great day.
We aren't as involved in fair activities as many in my home county. We are active in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, which means our club time is limited and we don't do 4-H right now. We're planning on entering some things in the open class divisions next year, but this year, we were purely spectators (and pie eaters).
My love for the county fair runs deep, though, and goes back to 1931. Times were tough in Warren County, and the fair board thought it would be a great morale-booster (and no doubt a fair attendance booster – marketing genius!) to hold a contest where a couple would win an extravagant wedding at the fair. The winning couple was kept a closely guarded secret until the moment they stepped into the grandstand for the ceremony. As it turns out, the couple was Vern Foust and Helen Utsler, my grandparents.
My grandfather passed away before I was born, sadly, but thankfully my grandma lived into her nineties. When I'd ask about her wedding day, she'd smile and say it was really something. Her best friend, Ruby, who later married my grandma's brother and became family, was her maid of honor. The fair queen contestants were her bridesmaids. A simple man and woman who didn't have much in the way of money, but who had more than enough love, were given a dream wedding. An amazing gift!
More than 4,500 people attended my grandparents' wedding. There were people hanging off the rafters! I'm guessing that's a record that will stand in Warren County for a very long time. It's hard to imagine that many people coming together for an event like this. Times were different, and people wanted something to celebrate. They needed a reason to come to the fair and be genuinely happy. It was a fairy-tale day for my grandparents, to be sure.
I love the story of their wedding day so much, and my next project is going to be to find a way to commemorate the occasion on the fairgrounds. Maybe I'll work with my family to collect funds to have a bench or an engraved brick on the new photo wall donated in their name. Maybe the fair board will agree to display a plaque with their photo. Something's going to happen. I'll make sure of it. My grandparents may be gone, but I think it's important for Warren County to remember the little piece of history that was their wedding day.
Here's an article that appeared in the newspaper after my grandparents' wedding. My grandma kept a clipping, and passed it on to me.
4,500 PEOPLE GUESTS AT CO. FAIR WEDDING
Miss Helen Utsler of Indianola is Bride and Vern Foust of Spring Hill The Groom
In the presence of the largest number of guests that ever attended a wedding in Warren County, Miss Helen Utsler of Indianola, and Vern Foust of Spring Hill, were united in marriage last Friday night (August 21, 1931) at the county fair.
The long heralded marriage of the unknown bride and groom took place on a platform, appropriately decorated for the occasion, in front of the grandstand crowded to capacity from people from all over the county in holiday mood, but at the same time possessed with a full sense of the propriety of such a ceremony.
4,500 See Ceremony
Secretary E.J. Anderson stated that 4,500 people were seated in the two ampitheatres, spilled over into the race track, occupied seats on improvised bleachers, and crowded the open spaces directly in front. Guests began arriving in the grandstand as early as 4 o'clock in the afternoon, ate their lunch where they sat, and remained until the ceremony was over, a little past 9 o'clock.
The wedding took place immediately following the evening's program consisting of a band concert, vaudeville acts and a dance recital.
A Colorful Setting
The stands, jammed with curious people, the lights and shadows playing across the platform, the glare of a hundred electric lamps, and the bridesmaids each wearing a dress of a different shade, provided an interesting and colorful setting for an unusual occasion.
At 9 o'clock, Prof. Lester Spring, co-head of the vocal department of the Simpson conservatory of music, walked to the platform, and with Mrs. Spring at the piano sang a wedding song, "Beloved It Is Morn."
As Professor Spring finished the singing of his song, the Argonne Post Military band began Lohengrin's Wedding march.
Next came the minister, the Rev. Dr. Arthur Atack, pastor of the Methodist Episcopal church of Indianola.
Dr. Atack was followed by the bridesmaids, who emerged from a tent across the track, ten popular girls residing in as many towns of Warren County. Miss Harriet Leone Harlan of Indianola, Miss Eurolyn Perkins of Martensdale, Miss Ilo Erb of Liberty Center, Miss Evelyn Demory of Milo, Miss Virginia Parsons of Hartford, Miss Ruth McCrea of St. Marys, Miss Helen Spurgin of Beech, Miss Ethel Hagen of Norwalk, Miss Barbara Heggen of Carlisle and Miss Newella Brooks of New Virginia.
Then came Mr. Foust, the bridegroom and his groomsman, and the ring bearer, Jimmie Weinman, followed by the maid of honor, Miss Ruby McClintic, and the flower girl, Patty Piffer.
The bride, wearing a white georgette gown and white veil, and carrying a large bridal bouquet of roses, came last, marching down a lane of white ribbons held by Lewis and Grant Kimer, Richard Hartzler, Neil Jorgenson, Worth Van Clark and Paul Morgan, Indianola Boy Scouts, and which had been the pathway of the entire wedding party.
When the band ceased playing the wedding march, Dr. Atack standing in front of the microphone, requested that the grandstands become silent, he began the ceremony. The ring service was used. There was a prayer by Dr. Atack, the bridegroom kissed the bride, and as he did so the crowd cheered.
Felter Presents Gold
Representative Victor Felter, president of the Warren County Fair Association, stepped to the platform, and speaking through the microphone, presented the couple with $25 in gold, a gift of the fair management, and on behalf of the association, wished Mr. and Mrs. Foust luck and happiness.
The band struck up "Oh You Great Big Beautiful Doll," "You Never Can Tell About a Woman," and "He Follows the Girls Around."
A girl representing each merchant who had promised a gift to the county fair couple, stepped to the platform and handed the bride an envelope containing a ticket good for the merchandise.
The wedding details were in the hands of Mrs. J.K. Browne, assisted by Mrs. E.C. Harlan, Mrs. H.H. McNeil, Mrs. J.H. Watson, and Mrs. Harry L. Browne.