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2020 Osage County Free Fair is canceled

Robert Smith

The Osage County Free Fair, which dates back to 1913, will not be held this year.

“The what-ifs got us,” said Macy Strom, who chairs the Free Fair board.

The possibility of financial losses also made a difference. The Free Fair board had been trying to add zest to its programming by lining up a carnival; however, the county could have been on the hook for a $12,000 cancellation fee if it had formally engaged the carnival and then backed out later.

“We sure didn’t want to,” Strom said of the cancellation, which was announced last week. The 2020 fair was to have been held Sept. 9-12. She said the fair board will try to make the 2021 fair, currently anticipated for Sept. 8-11, 2021, bigger and better.

Among the key considerations leading to the cancellation of the fair for this year was the possibility that area schools would not transport their students to it.

“Our fair is so geared toward children, school kids and their families, that the loss of their attendance would be major,” Strom said in a news release.

The fair board said in the same release that the schools gave answers such as “very doubtful” and “probably not” when asked if they would make arrangements for students to attend the fair.

“Grade schools, day cares, pre-schools and high school agriculture groups alone bring approximately one thousand people to our fair each year,” the fair board also said in its release. “So many vendors, civic and public service groups set up during the fair and without the kids and their parents, attendance would be extremely low.”

Strom emphasized that the decision to cancel was taken with heavy hearts.

“Our fair board and the county commissioners did not make this decision lightly. We were excited about the changes and additions being implemented this year,” she said.

The Osage County Free Fair is the latest local event to be either modified in some way or canceled because of pressures created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Both the Osage County Cattlemen’s Association and the Cavalcade Rodeo board made alterations to their annual events, while the Ben Johnson Steer Roping was canceled outright for this year.

Another event of note that is in jeopardy is the annual Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce gala, which is a major fundraiser for the Chamber. It had been postponed in the spring and rescheduled for Aug. 22; however, Chamber Executive Joni Nash said last week that the Aug. 22 date has been scrubbed from the calendar, but no final decision had yet been made about whether to try to line up another date or to cancel for this year.

Nash also said no decision had yet been made about the National Indian Taco Championship, which is scheduled for Oct. 3. She did acknowledge, though, that things are not currently looking good for the taco championship this year. The taco championship is the sort of event that depends for its attractiveness on the public sharing of food items and a lot of free-wheeling socializing and dancing and singing.