Opening night of Manatee Fair has something for everyone

rdymond@bradenton.comJanuary 17, 2014 

PALMETTO -- For bundled-up Chloe Huth, 8, it was the cotton candy.

For Chloe's grandparents, Jerry and Debbie Roberts of northwest Bradenton, it was watching Chloe and her brother, Michael, 4, eat the cotton candy.

For Savannah Bustle, 12, and her cousin, Alijah Madrid, 4, it was chomping on corn dogs.

For Bekah Bennett, 6, it was arguing with Rock-It the Robot.

For Gracie "Captain" Nindle, president of the Bradenton Lion's Club, it was watching her crack team of fair volunteers in action, despite the cold.

And, for Trey Winsor, it was getting grand champion in the 2014 Youth Livestock Swine Show.

The reasons were varied why people enjoyed Thursday's chilly opening night of the 98th Annual Manatee County Fair.

A temperature in the 40s with wind chill limited attendance to about 2,000, with the bulk of those packed tightly in the Mosaic Arena for the red-hot swine show.

They saw Winsor, a Haile Middle School FFA member, please the judges with a hog weighing in at 275 pounds.

Reserve champion went to Spencer Crosby of the Awesome Adventures 4-H Club of Manatee County. His hog was 279 pounds.

For the Huths and Rob

erts, Thursday was about keeping a family tradition alive and well.

For countless years, adults in the Roberts family have taken young family members to opening night at the Manatee County Fair.

Armed with $200 and the fierce determination to blow it all, Grandpa Jerry and Grandma Debbie Roberts showed their grandchildren, Chloe and Michael Huth, a fun-packed night.

"I've lived here all my life," Debbie Roberts said. "My mom, Mary Tolley, who is now 73, took me on opening night when I was a little girl."

The Roberts and Huths ate turkey and fried rice, rode the ponies, the whip and the helicopter and went to see a "A Grizzly Experience." It's a new daily attraction involving grizzly bears.

"He opened his mouth as big as he could," Chloe remarked about one bear.

As Chloe was talking, an announcer with Show-Me Safari Pig Races yelled out: "It's just a 'snort' time till show time!"

The Roberts family was gone like greased lightning.

The Bradenton Lions, who have volunteered at the fair since 1947, perform many duties at the fair.

"We are in charge of all ticket taking and south parking," said Nindle of her 39 Lions volunteers.

Nindle, the last volunteer to leave every night of the fair (she's never been on a ride in six years as fair captain), praised the 100-plus volunteers needed to run the fair.

"The Lions holds a steak fry for all 100 volunteers and they deserve it," Nindle said Thursday while wearing a heavy coat.

Nindle said she is proud this year of Sugar Creek Estates' volunteers for their work taking tickets.

"The Sugar Creek ticket-takers are sweethearts," she said.

The fair runs through Jan. 26 at 1402 14th Ave. W., Palmetto.

Gates will open from 5-9:30 p.m. Friday for Day Two of the event with The Henningsens music group highlighting the action on the Main Stage at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $8 for adults, $7 for seniors (55 and older), $5 for military and children 6-12, free for children younger than 6.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.

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