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Lifelong visitors, newcomers make their way to Turlock fairgrounds
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Liam Smith, 2, enjoys bubbles by Sterling Johnson The Bubble Smith during the opening day of the Stanislaus County Fair on Friday. - photo by CANDY PADILLA / The Journal

Spinning rides, sputtering tractor engines and sinful food made their successful return to Turlock on Friday for opening night of the Stanislaus County Fair, with visitors by the thousands making it out to the fairgrounds despite the summer heat.

The thermostat read 96 degrees when the fair gates opened at 5 p.m., but that didn’t stop Manteca resident Sharla Gordon from coming to Turlock to experience the fair for the first time. She’s heard many great things about the Stanislaus fair throughout the years, she said, and finally made it to the event this year with a friend.

“My friends came to pick me up and said, ‘Come see what the fair has to offer,’” Gordon said. “I hear there’s a fantastic funnel cake somewhere.”

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Fans wait for the John Michael Montgomery concert during opening day of the fair on Friday. - photo by CANDY PADILLA / The Journal

Gordon was impressed with Sterling the Bubblesmith and made sure to record a video of his bubble performance for her grandson, and she couldn’t contain her excitement surrounding one feature at the fair that she had also heard much about — Hypnotist Suzy Haner’s show.

“Everyone’s told me her shows are absolutely outstanding,” Gordon said, adding that she’d prefer to watch the show from the audience rather than be hypnotized on stage. “I’m so excited to be here.”

While Friday was full of firsts for many, it also marked the final opening night for the Stanislaus County Fair’s beloved floriculture staff who plan to retire after the fair’s 10-day run. Combined, the 15 employees who plan on retiring at the end of the event have at least 195 years of experience, floriculture co-superintendent Dick Davis said.

Davis shares the duties of overseeing the floriculture department with his fellow co-superintendent Harold Whaley, who at 90 years old has over 40 years of experience working at the fair — 27 of which have been in the floriculture department.

It was Whaley’s decision to retire this year that ultimately led the rest of the staff to do the same, Davis said.

“We all made a pact and said when Harold quits or retires, we’re all going to go,” Davis said. “It’s always fun and we have a great time, but eventually you just want some time off to do other things and be a little more free in the summer.”

With 30 years of experience working in the floriculture department himself, Davis said that he will most miss the comradery between the employees.

“The thing I’ll miss most is the way all of our staff works together and helps each other,” he said.

As the floriculture department savored their last opening night at the fair, Ceres resident Renee Bargas prepared to enjoy Friday’s John Michael Montgomery concert on the Bud Light Variety Free Stage. Bargas and her mother waited for hours before the 8:30 p.m. showtime to get front row seats, she said.

“I’ve been a big fan of his ever since I was little,” Bargas said. “My parents always listened to him and I get my music taste from my dad, so I’m excited to see the concert.”

Bargas added that she would be returning to watch more concerts later in the week, including Trace Adkins and Easton Corbin.

“The concerts are what keep me coming back year after year,” she said.

While concertgoers waited in the sun for a glimpse of the country star, FFA and 4-H members nearby in the ag pavilion worked to keep their animals cool despite the evening’s hot temperatures. While the 96-degree temperatures had fairgoers wiping their brow, it’s expected to be even hotter over the weekend with triple digit weather until Tuesday.

Hilmar High School junior John Alamo said that the five cows he’s showing at the fair this year don’t milk well under warm temperatures, making it important to keep the heifers cool as they rest.

“In a commercial dairy, when it gets above 70 degrees fans come on and there are misters to keep the cows cool,” Alamo said. “So, here we hose them off during the day when it’s really hot and we also have fans,” Alamo said.

Despite the heat and expected warm weekend, Alamo and his fellow FFA members weren’t worried about themselves beating the high temperatures.

“We drink a lot of milk to stay cool,” he joked. “Our priority is to keep the cows comfortable.”

The Stanislaus County Fair runs through July 22 and is open from 5 p.m. until midnight weekdays and noon to midnight on Saturday and Sunday. Adult admission is $12, and the price for children ages 7-12 is $7. Children six and under are free. Tickets and ride wristbands can also be purchased online at