Since 1856, the Utah State Fair has been entertaining thousands of Utahns each year who travel to the fairgrounds in Salt Lake City.
But for the first time this year, the fair is going on the road, taking its acts to a South Salt Lake nursing home, where the fair has become the event of the year for about 100 senior citizens who fondly remember the fairs of their youth.Stacy Sorensen, admissions coordinator for Woodland Park Care Center, said the administration of the facility was disturbed at recent studies showing that "biographies end when a nursing home stay begins," and that too often the elderly and their families see the center as a place to wait for death.
"Our lives continue. We're trying really hard to get rid of that bad perception of nursing homes," Sorensen said. "It's not a dark and dreary place. It's a fun, bright, happy place where memories are being made and shared."
And when Woodland Park residents said they wished they could go to the fair, the administrators saw a beautiful opportunity to let residents recapture and share some moments from the past and a chance to let the staff "not just take care of them, but see them as people," she said. Most of all, she said, they wanted to liven up the place.
And did they ever.
Balloons and ribbons cover every wall of the building. The main hallway has been renamed "State Fair Lane" and it leads to the recreation room, where the Utah State Fair has literally come to Woodland Park.
With the help of the Utah State Fair board and several corporate sponsors, the center has everything from the clowns and jugglers who roam the fair to the award-winning sheep and goats.
The senior citizens learned country line dances in their wheelchairs, had preschoolers compete in sack races in their names, and even had big-name stars from the grandstand come to sing for them.
Still to come are the watermelon-seed spitting contest, the bed races in the parking lot and the cow-milking contest, where rubber gloves from the center will be "milked" by some of the former farmers living at Woodland Park. To please everyone, the staff has even planned for stationary cow-roping, baking contests and a charity "pretty baby contest."
Having the fair for a visit has brought back a flood of memories for everyone, Sorensen says. On each door at the center hangs a construction-paper fair ribbon, where each resident has described his fondest memories of the fair.
"I remember the big, beautiful apples," one reads.
"In 1917, my mom took us to see the horse Princess Ann," says the sign on the next door.
Fair time has excited even the most stubborn residents, Sorensen said. Many have shared stories of showing animals or getting in trouble for jumping the fence to sneak into the fair or piling into an old Ford with high school friends in their new clothes.
One man told how he didn't have enough money to take his young sons to the fair, so he found a job selling cotton candy to cover the admission cost.
"It's just magic," said Sorensen, who has made arrangements for the fair to become an annual event at the center.