The Moegle family made their annual trip to the Panhandle-South Plains Fair on Saturday. In the parking lot, next to the tall, old sign marking the fairgrounds, Bobby, Carolyn and their two daughters took a selfie – continuing a 59-year tradition of taking a photo at the fair.
“I thought we could just Photoshop ‘South Plains Fair’ behind a photo in the backyard, but nope. That didn’t work with those girls,” Carolyn Moegle said.
The matriarch of the family said the tradition started the first year she and Bobby were together. The couple took a picture in a small photo booth at the Lubbock fair. Then they took one the second year. The third year, superstitious high school baseball coach Bobby declared it a tradition.
The family has taken “the fair photo” every year since, adding family members as their daughters got married and had their own kids. Moegle said she laughs at the photos from the early years. She’s not quite sure how her hair always fit in the tiny photo booth.
“It’s like our life story, truthfully,” Moegle said. “You can see when we dated, when we were married. One picture I’m pregnant with Sherri, and then the next year she’s in the picture. Same thing with Melinda. And it’s fun to watch our grandchildren grow up.”
The couple, now in their 80s, didn’t go inside the fair. But their daughters got them their usual hot dogs that they ate at home.
Like the Moegle’s family tradition, the Panhandle-South Plains Fair continues this year despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The food, the rides, the stock show – it’s all going on through October 3. Jennifer Wallace, general manager of the fair, said her goal is to offer some normalcy.
“Here it is. We’re having it,” Wallace said. “We would love for you to participate; we understand if you don’t. No fault, no foul. See you next year.”
Under current state guidelines, large outdoor events are allowed in Texas if they’ve been approved by the local government. Wallace prepared a 63-page safety plan in July. With a few tweaks, it was approved.
Fair attendees have to wear a mask and are encouraged to clean their hands frequently. Building capacity is limited, but since most attractions are outdoors, Wallace said they are not limiting the number of people allowed in at a time.
There are fewer rides and vendors than in past years. The annual coliseum concerts and womens’ building competitions were canceled. Wallace said that’s all OK – it allowed for more room to spread out.
“When we were planning, we said if we could get 50% of attendance we’re used to, it would still be worth it,” she said.
That’s around 75,000 people total over the 10 days of the fair.
Wallace said organizers thought about canceling. But many groups rely on and look forward to the fair each year. She said she wanted to give people the choice to come – or not.
One group that depends on the fair each year is Oakwood United Methodist Church. For their annual fundraiser, Pastor Robert Lindley said the church partners with a private family to sell thousands of fried pies.
It’s one of the most popular food booths at the fair. They frequently sell out before the event is over. Lindley said the church makes between $8,000 and $10,000 each year and puts that money towards multiple missions.
“That was one of the driving forces,” Lindley said. “OK, if we don’t do the fair, then how are we going to raise funds so that we can continue on doing our ministries that are vital?”
Lindley was hopeful they will sell out again his year.
Bliss Bessire is another person excited the fair was not canceled. She’s an eighth-grader at Frenship Middle School and has been a part of 4-H for years. Bessire showed her 200-pound pi,g Ranger. Most other livestock competitions in the state have been canceled this year.
“We have a bunch of time and money put into this,” she said. “And so, when the fair wasn’t canceled, we were like, ‘let’s go.’ There’s no second choice. We’re going.”
The crowd size was smaller than usual, but during a weekday lunch hour, hundreds munched on corndogs and funnel cakes as they walked around the grounds. About half of the people wore a mask correctly. Lines for popular food vendors were long, with only some distancing between groups.