Centennial Gems awarded to top indoor exhibitors

Special to the Herald Times

RBC I Gem paperweight awards were presented to 11 indoor exhibitors this year in celebration of the Rio Blanco County Fair’s centennial. One gem was awarded in each of the following departments: horticulture, flowers, sewing, quilting, pantry stores, baking, misc. and farm products, hobbies, art, photography and wool.

“I guess I won the whole fair!” said Grace Raley, Centennial Fair gem award winner for horticulture. Raley’s first fair has inspired her to do more next year. The “8 and under” exhibitor out-bested competition with her green tomatoes that caught the judge’s eye. 

Raley also wrote a special thank you note to the Fair Board, which will be framed with her picture to commemorate the soul of the 2021 centennial Rio Blanco County Fair.

In Department 2 Flowers, Ella Abeyta’s dahlias were the judge’s choice. Abeyta lives on Market Street. Visitors traveling through have stopped to take pictures of her flower garden. Her dahlias were undeniably gem-worthy.

Department 3 Foods had three gem recipients. Pantry stores was won by Gerald Morris.

Anyone who knows Morris knows he’s up for challenges. He brought home produce, which got him “volun-told” to help with the preserving. He took up the task and is now considered an accomplished canner. 

The baked goods gem award winner is Jean Wood. The foods department has long been Wood’s passion as she’s taught classes, orchestrated salsa contests, judged in other counties, and is a true believer in 4-H cooking. 

The farm products and miscellaneous foods gem award was won by a very surprised Toby Leavitt for her chokecherry brandy entry. Competition was stiff this year, but her entry rose “like cream on milk”!

Gem number six was in needlework and sewing. Nancy Chintala loves to knit. Being a retired teacher with deep roots in 4-H, Chintala wants to spread the knowledge of knitting to whomever wants to learn. Chintala’s entry was tops — literally. She entered a sweater.

The quilting gem was earned by local quilter Jan Keller.

Hobby and crafts is an expansive department with all kinds of exhibits. Susan Bellamy’s attention to details won the judge’s accolades and earned her the eighth gem. Bellamy and her husband relocated from the Eastern Slope a couple years ago. Her entries have earned Grand and Reserve Champions the last two years. This year, the judge tagged Susan’s entry “50’s Susie and Ricky” as commanding the gem award.

The art department judge presented the gem award to local professional Josie Kemry. Her rendition of coal miners at the mine portal was emotionally connected to many residents in

Rio Blanco County. Kemry, a retired coal miner herself, hopefully will enter next year. As artists live, so their work reflects.

The photography gem award was somewhat surprising. Stephanie Oldland won the award but many say her true talent is in quilting. Oldland is known for her passion and a long historical promotion of the heritage art of quilting.

The eleventh gem was awarded in Department 9, wool fleeces. The last two years have been awakened at shearing time. Producers have been so busy, they forget to save fleeces back to enter at the fair in August. Thanks to a few “monitors,” the wool fleece department expanded last year and multiplied this year. Jace Vroman, a junior exhibitor, had the gem award-winning fleece.

How fitting is it that the gem awards for the 2021 centennial fair are bookended by a peewee (Raley) exhibitor and a junior (Vroman) exhibitor. The next 100 years of the Rio Blanco County Fair has started with the centennial fair 2021.

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