- Associated Press - Saturday, August 27, 2016

PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) - Cooks and chefs who enter their pies, cakes and other foods in the Colorado State Fair each year are a competitive bunch.

Their pies may be sweet …

“Oh, I’ve had so many judges over the years tell me that our Fair is one tough crowd,” laughed Deb Wallace, who oversaw all the general-entry contests for the past 15 years.

Wallace, who just turned 65, is retiring this summer after 33 Fairs, reported The Pueblo Chieftain (https://bit.ly/2bwqgiY).

Ask her about the year some young, zealous volunteers took all the baked-good entries to the Pueblo Community Soup Kitchen before any could be judged. The street people got some mighty fine pie and cake that week. Wallace covered her smile as she remembered.

“Fortunately, Chris Wiseman was manager that year and he was great at fixing problems,” she said. “I called him and said, ‘Chris, you’re not going to believe what happened and I’m going to need your help in telling these folks.’” Fortunately none were also entered in any shooting contests, and most were willing to go back to their kitchens for another try, she said. Wallace is a Pueblo native, which means she’s been going to Fairs since she was young enough to know where to climb the wall for free entry.

She’s worked in the maintenance department, accounting and, finally, general entry - where she oversaw all the items entered in Fair contests, from quilts to cookies. She’s worked for six general managers, starting with George Scott and finishing with the new leader, Sarah Cummings.

Thirty-three Fairs is a lot of funnel cake.

“I had told myself I was retiring at 65, and I’m sticking to it,” she said, acknowledging that she may go back and help her replacement, Trisha Fernandez, with some judging. “But she doesn’t need me,” Wallace was careful to emphasize.

The baton, or turkey leg in this case, has been passed.

Ask her what she’s going to miss about those summer extravaganzas, and Wallace doesn’t hesitate.

“The people,” she answered. “The people I worked with and the people who come to the Fair every year with their arts and crafts. They can be a pain in the you-know-what when it comes to judging their entries, but they care about the Fair. That blue ribbon means a lot.”

So much that Wallace says many contest winners never bother to cash the prize check.

“Nope. They just put it in the frame with their blue ribbon,” she said.

Fair competitions are a throwback to a time when people made their own clothes and goods. The quilts, clothes and other entries often display exquisite workmanship.

“I worry those arts and skills are disappearing,” Wallace acknowledged. “I don’t see young people learning those skills. They play video games.”

She remains upbeat about 4-H and the Future Farmers of America organizations, however. Young people still like raising animals, she said.

“And we have new crafts, like beer- and wine-making, that are growing in popularity,” she said.

Wallace isn’t impressed with some of the so-called benefits of new technology.

“We’ve made all our entry forms available online, but people still come to our office every year to hand in their paperwork,” she said. “It’s because they’re family. They’ve been coming to the Fair for years, and they want to tell you what’s new in their lives and hear about you. It’s that face-to-face relationship that really matters to them.”

So here’s Wallace on some quick-answer topics:

Favorite Fair food

- “The cinnamon roll place in the (Palace of Agriculture),” she said. “And they make a mean hamburger, too.”

Favorite concert

- “There have been so many. But I took my mother to see Wayne Newton once, and that was great,” she said.

Moving the Fair out of Pueblo

- Wallace glowers. “Never,” she shot back. “Absolutely not. I can’t see having a Fair without all our farmers and ranchers from southern Colorado and (the San Luis) valley coming here. I know people up north say they have agriculture, too, but it’s all just a little too ‘citified’ up there. That’s the way it is.”

When she said ‘citified’ she pushed her nose up with one finger.

Citified. Clearly not a condition you want to suffer from.


Information from: The Pueblo Chieftain, https://www.chieftain.com

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