Rynearson big on Harford Fair ribbons

When Merl Rynearson was a little boy back in 1925, the Hop Bottom lad won his first Harford Fair ribbon for a drawing.

Some 85 years later Rynearson, now 92, is still winning Harford Fair ribbons, mostly for showing poultry. On Sunday night he was recognized for a winning streak that will be hard to match.
Rynearson has brought home a ribbon each year for more than eight decades of Harford Fairs minus those five in which he was in the U.S. Army around World War II.
He remembers back in the 1920s and 1930s, when the Fair was in September that “We got a day off from school to go to the Harford Fair. We all looked forward to it. It was big stuff.”
It was bigger stuff for Rynearson who although he didn’t live on a farm and wasn’t involved in 4-H, always had a knack for poultry.
He convinced his parents to let him have a coop in the back yard of their home in town, and guesses he must’ve been good at it, because he was bringing home ribbons that suggested he knew how to show chickens, pigeons and doves.
Bantams and brahmas were his specialty and Rynearson says he thinks his parents didn’t mind his hobby, because “It kept me out of trouble.”
Before finishing Hop Bottom High School in 1937, Rynearson’s family had moved just outside of town to care for his ailing gradfather, and well one coop spawned another.
And another.
He still lives in the same house near the Shore Forest Campground and has more than a half dozen coops, although he keeps chickens in only one, and fussed last Friday that they weren’t looking as good as they used to.
Or needed to for this year’s Fair.
“You might own what you think is a Grand Champion, but he might not be when you need him to be,” Rynearson said. “The weather has a lot to do with it, the number of light hours they’re exposed to, their feed and their environment all play a role.”
He said he wasn’t worried about giving away the secret to his success, because “there is no secret. You just have to care about what you do.”
He said the late Cecil Rose who owned a dairy farm near Heart Lake was his greatest competitor over the years in the poultry department, and probably had the advantage because he literally lived on a farm.
“But that never got in my way, and it was always a friendly rivalry,” he said, while showing off a room full of ribbons punctuated with two China closets full of fair trophies.
“It’s been a good run, and I’ve loved it,” Rynearson said while bemoaning the fact that today’s kids just have too many things to do to get caught up in a hobby the way he did.
However, Rynearson counts today’s youths fortunate for having 4-H and other programs which teach proper animal husbandry, and he also says that the Harford Fair has changed for the better going from the three days he remembered to a 6-day fair and a lot more things to see and do then opened his big eyes 85 years ago.
The 153rd Harford Fair had a soft opening Sunday with the Sayre Family Singers performing and a couple of presentations including Harford Fair poultry chair Ron Stiles welcoming Rynearson to the stage.
Stiles quipped that when anyone says, ‘the Harford Fair never changes’, should talk to Merl as he has lived through the many, many changes taking place over the years.”
The Fair continues Friday and Saturday.
For more details about the demonstrations and other shows including an alligator-wrestling act at the fair which runs through Saturday just off exit 217 of I-81, visit www.harfordfair.com
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