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BOX ELDER COUNTY FAIR - "Fair Forward: It's all about the people"

TREMONTON - Ellen Cook, Headliner Media Specialist, August 19, 2021

This image is subject to copyright laws and regulations "The Soft Sell," a painting by Lori Nicholas

Each year the Box Elder County Fair gets bigger and better. There are more entries, more livestock and more fairgoers. And each year there are more volunteers who step up to make the fair a success.

This year’s fair book cover depicting the annual Junior Livestock Auction is a great example of that high level of volunteerism. The late Lori Nicholas, herself a fair volunteer in the Fine Arts department, painted the original that now hangs in the auction barn. She did not, however, fill it with unfamiliar faces or random strangers. The faces were and are real and are well-known to those who have spent any time at all at the “best fair in the state.”

Read more about Lori Nicholas in a previously published article by on the link below.

But for those who may be new to the county or just beginning to see the powerful draw of this annual fair each August, here is a Who’s Who from left to right...

Arthur Douglas - Courtesy Photo

Arthur Douglas, Livestock Auction Director for 10 years in the 1980s

Douglas said Bill Smoot, long time Fair Board President, asked him to help one year and he just continued doing it. “Everyone was volunteers,” he said. “Nobody got paid. We were there to make sure the kids had a good time and there were buyers there to support the kids.”

He said it was nearly a year-round job getting the auction ready to go, then making sure the bid money was collected, the amount of which grew larger and larger each year.

“The support of the people is so good for those kids,” Douglas said. “I look at it now and those kids use that money for school, for missions, to get into the workforce. And for them, they learn to take care of and be responsible for an animal.”

Douglas loved his time as a volunteer and urges others to be part of its magic. “The fair is a neat experience for those who want to get involved,” he said.

Ben Tanaka - Courtesy Photo

Ben Tanaka, Auctioneer

Tanaka passed away in 2009 but was the quick-tongued voice of the Box Elder County Auction during most of the 80s and early 90s. His inside jokes about everyone in the auction barn, including himself, and his strong desire to get every penny for every participant were his trademarks.

Fellow auctioneer Rich Holmgren said his bidding buddy was a natural at auctioneering, although he never had any formal training. “Ben loved being with the kids and loved being in front of people. He knew the people of the county really well. He knew how much money you had in your pocket, and he knew how to get that out of you.”

Ray Sorensen - Courtesy Photo

Ray Sorensen, Hog Director, auction barn announcer and “a good volunteer to help do almost anything”

Now 92, Sorenson is likely the volunteer with the most years of service (35) the fair has had. He served as hog director for many years, while his late wife, Carol, work as a director in Home Arts. His place in the auction picture, however, stemmed from the fact that, year after year, this quiet man announced the name and the community of every livestock exhibitor as he or she brought their animal into the sales ring.

"It was not all electronics like it is now," he said. "There was a lot of writing. But we always had good microphones!"

He remembers the big names, like Coca-Cola, who used to come in and buy and buy to help the kids. "In all those sales, the kids did pretty darn good. I think they have always made good money."

Those years behind that microphone were some of his favorites, he said, even when he started announcing second generation sellers. "I made some good friends during those auctions. It was a pleasure working with those people."

Rich Holmgren - Courtesy photo

Rich Holmgren, Auctioneer

No one is more recognizable at the annual Junior Livestock Auction than the man with the infectious laugh and the gift of gab.

Holmgren said he picked up the auctioneer’s gavel at the Box Elder County Fair in about 1978, while just a youngster and still loves being part of the action. He remembers well those early years and is in awe of how the sale has grown.

“This auction has become quite a production to put on,” Holmgren said. “There are a lot of people involved in it. The picture tells only part of the story about what is really happening to make it all work. There are people outside lining animals up, people at the gates trying to keep the auction going as fast as it needs to go. The work that is done is unreal. There are the women writing stuff down and keeping records; there are runners going out to people in the audience; a lot of people sitting behind computers. It takes a ton of volunteer people to put that on. The center of attention may be that auction block like in the picture but those people in the background of this thing, they are worth their weight in gold.”

He also credits the buyers in the county who show up to help make the sale a positive experience. “We have some good businesses who really step up and help each year. Then there is the help from friends and families who put so much into the program and are so generous at the auction.”

Holmgren even instigated the “Thank You” luncheon on Auction Saturday. “It’s a crowd that makes the auction,” he said. “If they come and participate, we need to feed them.”

And they do just that. A host of volunteers put in hours preparing and serving pork, beef and lamb to hungry buyers and the auction viewers who come in droves.

Holmgren trades off with two other volunteer auctioneers, Reed Stokes and Carl Van Tassel, during the event but said the best payment he can receive for his time at the mike is the reactions of those young exhibitors when his gavel falls on a sale.

“If I can look down at those kids and make sure they leave with a smile on their face then I am tickled to death,” he said. “I may know them, or I may not know them, but if they are happy going out of the arena, that means the whole thing.”

Marta Earl - Courtesy photo

Marta Earl, Record Keeper

For more than 20 years, Earl kept track of each seller, each buyer and each bid. “I was invited to help out one year and I jumped at it. It was such an opportunity and I just loved it,” she said.

She admits to being amazed at how the numbers keep growing as more kids are participating but is equally staggered by the willingness of county residents to lend a hand.

“There are so many who are so willing to step up and help. I don’t think anybody ever has turned anybody down. We never had problems getting help. And they always stay there until it’s done,” Earl said.

She said the auction is successful because of “the people who come out and support us. I think Box Elder County has the best Junior Livestock Show in the state – and I know a lot of people who will back that up!”

Sid Gibbs - Courtesy photo

Sid Gibbs, Bid taker for 10 years

Gibbs said he started working the arena early on, “because I thought it was a big deal to help out the kids and the fair.”

In his time as a volunteer, he began to appreciate the generosity of those who filled the stands, placing bid after bid as exhibitors with beef cattle, lambs or hogs filed through the barn. “It was almost hard for me to believe that we could get that kind of money and that people would support it like they have,” he said. “This sale is now one of the biggest ones around. It is just a good auction with a lot of good people who pay a lot of money to support the fair and the kids.”

While the faces and the names in Lori Nicholas’ painting may have changed since it was created, its meaning has not, according to her husband, Richard.

“It is still the same county fair it was then and that is because people are willing to donate their time to help out, to volunteer,” Nicholas said. “If the day ever comes when there aren’t people like that who continue to do this, then we will be like everywhere else. These are who make the fair the fair. It’s all about the people.”


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