Hundreds of Belmont High School alumni returned Sept. 13–14 for the 100th Belmont School and Community Fair.
This year it was the Belmont Fair on steroids due to the historic milestone.
While many county fairs surpass 100 years of existence, the Belmont (School and Community) Fair is the longest running event of its kind in Wisconsin. It is a weekend that celebrates the southwest Wisconsin community and its school district, one of the smallest (according to enrollment figures) in Wisconsin.
The past few years Belmont’s senior classes have been under 20 students. I often ask myself how much longer districts this size can sustain themselves.
But talking with some locals during the weekend, they were excited some upcoming elementary classes have as many as 30 students. There is optimism.
I am a proud Belmont alumnus, Class of 1979, with, I believe 48 students. Marie and I lived in Belmont the first seven years of our marriage. We were fully integrated into fair activities during that time. I served on the fair board a few years and enjoyed my involvement.
Our house on Hazel Street was a mere block off the parade route. We hosted family and friends before and after the parade before heading up to the high school to socialize with former classmates.
We arrived in Belmont Friday night to watch the entire second half as Belmont came from behind to defeat Cassville 20–14 in overtime. I’ve said this for years: The next time I hear a high school football coach from a larger school district boast how well conditioned their players are playing one way, take time to attend a game where lower division teams compete.
Most, if not all, players from Belmont and Cassville play both ways, the entire game. Such is the norm for lower division schools. I counted six players on the sideline for Belmont. I think Cassville had 10. The margin for injury is razor thin. Never liked Cassville much when I was in high school — one of those youthful rivalry things. I was glad to see Belmont win.
The Braves could surprise some folks in Division 7, if they stay away from injuries. The victory was a high note to start the fair weekend and included fireworks at the conclusion.
A chilly, damp Friday night gave way to a sunny warm Saturday. Historically the parade starts at 10 or 10:30 a.m. With more bands, floats and other entries, the start time was bumped up to 9:30 a.m. The parade did not disappoint. Several families and classes had their own floats. Past fair royalty was on display.
If there was one disappointment for the Class of ’79, it was the fact we never had a fair king or queen. At the time royalty was determined by the number of fair tickets sold by each class. The Class of 80 had 64 students. I was told it was the second largest class ever at Belmont.
The Class of ’80 crowned king and queen all four years in high school — still a sore point as I look back. But I shared a few cocktails with Class of ’80 alumni during the weekend. After 30-plus years it’s time to let bygones be bygones.
Without a doubt the highlight was having my parents attend the Saturday parade and festivities at the school. We moved them to Janesville a little more than one year ago. It was a long day, but with a family effort they were able to socialize with longtime friends they have not seen since relocating. They were tired by the time they returned to Janesville.
When Marie and I discussed dates for our wedding in 1992 we thought about getting married the Saturday of the Belmont Fair. I’m still not sure if Dad would have blown off our wedding to attend the fair. But to avoid any conflict, we scheduled around the fair. It was a win–win for everyone.
When I think of all the historical displays and photos on exhibit, one that will resonate is the picture of four Irish crooners performing near Mount Horeb or Verona. Four McDonald brothers, Ray, Jim, Larry and Pat were well known for their vocal prowess.
The photo on display featured the brothers standing at microphones in 1952. They each had pompadours that would have made Elvis Presley envious. It was the first time I saw that photo and it was classic.
Ray, Larry and Pat farmed in Truman, where I was raised. Ray McDonald has had a family band for decades. His children and grandchildren are talented singers and musicians. Their band has performed many years at the fair and did so again this year. I actually think I saw Mom tapping her foot while they performed.
Only one regret from the 100th Belmont School and Community Fair: I saw too few Class of ’79 classmates. They may have attended. We may have passed in the school hallway and I did not recognize them. After all, I’m sure they have aged.
Make that two regrets: I wanted to be in that parade. The Class of ’79 did not have enough members to merit a float entry. I was never fair royalty. Only one trick would have worked to get in the parade, alumni FFA Greenhands. For decades Belmont FFA Greenhands brought up the rear of the parade behind the horses with shovels and wheelbarrows. Need I say more?
Greenhands were required to dress as ladies and some took it quite serious with all the right props in all the right places. You know what I mean.
The anticipation was worthwhile and I hope to get back to more fairs in the future.
Bob Kliebenstein is a rural Tomah resident.