This weekend will see the close of the 114th Missouri State Fair and with it another year of Fair memories.
For some, the images and events seem familiar and unchanging but throughout the Fair’s history, there have been numerous changes and improvements, especially for one Fair mainstay.
Leo Dick has been a fixture at the Missouri State Fair since he first started working in his family’s corndog stand in 1968.
Dick’s affiliation with the Fair predates the corndog stand by several years.
“I remember when my father, Leo Dick Sr., and mother, Emma Dick, first brought me and my brothers and sister to the Fair when we were little,” Dick said last Saturday. “It was really something, the parade used to come down State Fair Boulevard from Main Street and there were all kinds of circus animals.
“Murphy Brothers had elephants and they used them to unload the tents and all the other things from the train cars,” he recalled. You would come through the main gate on 16th Street and there were rows of neon lights on the pillars and then you would walk under the old overpass bridge that was on the grounds and there were flags and colored banners hanging everywhere.”
Dick’s father bought State Fair Grocery, located at 1520 W. 16th St., in 1950 and the family was asked to deliver groceries to many of the vendors and exhibitors to the Fair.
“We had a truck and we went from tent to tent delivering groceries to everyone at the fair,” Dick said. “Man there were some good people back then and there still are, but it was just a different time.
“The campgrounds were new back then and we used to deliver maps so the campers would know where everything was,” he added. “There weren’t many motel rooms so a lot of people would put up signs and offer to rent rooms in their basements or house for the visitors to have a place to stay.”
Dick said everyone worked together to make sure the Fair was a memorable experience for all.
“The people are what made the Fair great, they still are but things seemed a little different back then,” Dick said. “The sheriff and the police and the firemen and the Highway Patrol they were always helping each other out.
“I remember when they would bring the fire trucks to the Grandstand and have them turn on the hoses to wash them down and wash any trash that might be left in the stands,” he said. “You’d see them all out there helping to make the Grandstand as clean as possible because we were one of the only places in the United States that had a race track like we did; people would come from all across the country to come to the races here.”
The Fairgrounds were home to a mile wooden track and throughout the history of the track and its evolution, racing in Sedalia saw some of the biggest names in racing history.
Dick recalled Indy racers Bobby Graham, Al Unser and Mario Andretti racing on the track as well as countless others but even the races were different in years past.
“It used to be that men would actually stand on the track to flag the cars,” Dick said. “They would have to stand really still or else they would get hit but they knew what they were doing.
“The Boy Scouts would flip the numbers so people would know what lap each car was on and people would count the cars as they went by to make sure everyone was on the right lap,” he recalled. “There were a lot of close calls and some accidents but that happens in every sport. You never want to see it but I remember when it happened here.”
Dick witnessed one of the most horrible accidents seen at the racetrack in Sedalia.
“I remember being there the day the car went over the fence and into the crowd killing a person,” Dick said. “There were a lot of people who were hurt and it was just a tragic, tragic accident.”
While there is no way to forget the tragedy of that accident, Dick recalled happier times at the track.
“There used to be a big goldfish pond in the center of the grass in the middle of the racetrack and on really hot days the racers would jump in that pond to cool off after they had finished their race,” he said with a laugh. “It was something to see.
“They used to have all kinds of racing from the cars to motorcycles to the harness races and horse racing,” he said. “There was always something for someone to see and people still remember them, people from years ago still call me to talk about it or they stop by the stand and we talk and talk.”
Dick has other fond memories from the Grandstand.
“We had all the big names in entertainment come here, there wasn’t a person who didn’t want to play at the State Fair back in the day,” Dick said. “One of my favorites has always been Leroy Van Dyke.
“He is a local boy but he never forgot about us,” he added. “He has done so much for the Fair over the years and he is just a dear friend.”
One other Missouri native who could put on a show, according to Dick, was Sally Rand, an exotic dancer from Elkton.
“Sally was something else,” Dick said. “She used to do a fan dance behind a screen with two big ostrich feathers and nothing else.
“You couldn’t see anything because of the curtain, but you thought you could and that was enough,” he added with a laugh. “She was a real lady though, as nice as anyone. She used to come and see us every chance she could.”
The times and people were different years ago, Dick said.
The men would all wear white shirts and ties even to go to the races and the ladies were in dresses and hats often with their white gloves in hand with their pocketbooks.
“On Sundays during the Fair they shut everything down for an hour for church services,” Dick said. “The Protestant service was at the Youth Building, the Lutherans would meet at the Highway Gardens and the Catholics would meet at the Coliseum.
“People would pack a picnic basket and we would eat on blankets under the pine trees on the south side of the grounds or in the Highway Gardens,” he added. “There are so many things we don’t realize that are gone.”
Dick said that although many things have changed at the Fair one thing that has not is the commitment of the organizers to put on an event that appeals to a wide audience each year.
“A lot of hard work goes into this each year,” Dick said. “Things like this don’t happen overnight and that goes for everyone here, especially the maintenance people and the superintendents who keep it running and do a lot of the behind the scenes work to the directors, commissioners and Foundation.
“I went to everything and I love it all, especially the history of it,” Dick added fondly. “I have so many wonderful memories and we need to keep this for others to have as well.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484.