My dad was born on August 8, 1920, which means he would have celebrated his 100th birthday this coming Saturday. To us kids, August 8th always meant a homemade spice cake with caramel icing and a day at the county fair. Sadly, my father has not been with us for the past seven celebrations of his special day.
Occasionally in this column I describe some aspect of my father’s life. He brought his Great Depression experiences with him into the 21st century, steadfastly believing the old ways were best – including an interest in vintage tractors shared with my brother. He worked hard to provide for us, using common sense and cleverness to twine-string, baler-wire, or duct-tape anything into usability. He trusted no one in Washington and lamented at length the plight of the “little guy.” His only birthdays not celebrated in Champaign County were the ones that came and went during his military service, as he discharged his patriotic duty in Europe. He regularly reminded us that we were “too well-fed” and annually announced that “Ol’ Santy was pretty good to you this year.” He sharpened pencils with his pocket knife and invariably suggested we girls use feed sacks from the barn for our 4-H outfits. Along with our mother, he was the humble, principled rock that grounded us, leading us into adulthood and influencing us well beyond.
For his 100th birthday remembrance, I wanted to know more about my dad in those forty years before I came along or was too young to understand what life and fathers were all about. I had pieced a few things together from his stories: he was the third of more than a dozen siblings living on farms near Mingo and later Rosewood. The boys did the outside chores, and the girls cooked. My grandpa taught them all to use every part of any animal they butchered, and my grandma did lots of canning. And when the family made their Sunday horse-and-wagon trek from Rosewood to their grandparents in Mechanicsburg, the kids kept their feet warm on bricks they had heated on the stove.
For further insight into my father’s life between the year women won the vote and JFK’s assassination, I began turning pages of the UDC – virtually, of course – in the archives on the county library website, cautioning myself that he had not necessarily experienced everything I read: his family was very Walton-esque in their number of kids and their lack of funds. I simply wanted a general sense of life in pre-war Champaign County.
Checking each year’s August 8th edition of the UDC, I found lots of items about the county fair, billed locally as “Ohio’s Biggest & Best County Fair, with the Purest Drinking Water in the State.” When my dad was in his late teens, the fair advertised “4 Big Days and 1 Big Night” with a family ticket costing $1.00 and general admission at 25₵ – horse pulling contests and mule races included. My father’s sprawling family attended most days each year, with big picnic lunches my grandmother prepared for the occasion.
Local merchants demonstrated the latest of everything at the fair: Victrolas, advertised as the “finest talking machines made”; the Logan One-Man Corn Husker, able to husk ten shocks an hour; the Hudson Coach, featuring closed-car comfort at open-car prices – AND full-sized balloon tires.
Most local stores closed during the fair, but other special events also made an impact. In 1923 the whole place shut down for an hour to honor former President Warren G. Harding’s funeral being held in Marion. And in 1941 a huge centennial parade of bands and floats depicting one hundred years of fair history wound its way through town enroute to the fairgrounds.
There was, of course, other business happening in the county. In 1934 north of St. Paris, 200 men were building a dam to form Kiser Lake. When the war came, the Rations Board moved to a larger location and hired more staff. And a crowd of 8000 spectators watched a precision-flying demonstration by the Civil Air Patrol at Grimes Field for the opening of the Urbana Municipal Airport.
A year after my father returned from “over there” he married, and the Scott baby boom commenced. Every year the whole family went to the fair every day, ate a picnic lunch in the parking lot, had one single-scoop ice cream cone and one ride per day. Mother often won ribbons in the baking competition with her nut breads and yeast rolls. And when we kids became 4-H members who modeled our outfits and did demonstrations, my father could be found setting up the sewing machine on the DP&L stage or installing display hangers in our 4-H booths – although he still managed to pass time in conversation at the farm equipment tents. And many an August 8th found us sharing spice cake with him right there on the fairgrounds.
The whirlwind of Scott Family life continued through college and marriages and grandkids before retirement and health challenges necessitated the inevitable slower pace. There were eventually no more days at the fair, and we have surely missed his birthday cakes for seven years now. My father occasionally expressed pride in his age of 93. Come Saturday, I will celebrate in my heart – and I plan to proudly continue counting his birthdays right on past 100.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.