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Our State Fair — Murray man is an institution at the event

MURRAY — For more than three decades a Murray man has experienced firsthand the rodeo, carnival rides, grandstand entertainment and staple commotion that accompany the Utah State Fair.

And he is ready for another go at it.

Sept. 8-18 marks Joe Ruth's 32nd fair. And Ruth can't wait to eat another Navajo taco.

"The only time I get them is at the fair," he said.

He is also looking forward to seeing some familiar fair-time faces.

"There are some people I got to know that I don't see throughout the year," Ruth said. "There are some pretty good people out there that come to the fair."

Ruth has worked full time for the Utah State Fair for the past 27 years. He began 31 years ago and worked full time for one year. Then he left to drive a semitrailer truck.

But even while driving the truck, he couldn't keep himself away and came back part time for five years to work the 10-day fair. Five years later, he was ready to work for the fair full time again.

Judy Duncombe, who is now the State Fair's assistant general manager, met Ruth 19 years ago when she worked counting ribbons for the fair.

"He (Joe) sticks out in my mind as being one of the first people that I met because he was so friendly and immediately made me feel like I was welcome here," Duncombe said. "I wasn't anybody important, but he made it a point to talk to me."

From setting up tables and chairs, to hauling horse manure, Ruth said he has done a little bit of everything while working maintenance at the Fairpark.

But Ruth's favorite fair memories were not made while working but performing.

He is part of a country western/oldies band that is unofficially named Father's Son. He has performed with the band at least 25 of the 31 years he has been at the fair.

"I love music," Ruth said.

Duncombe said that when Ruth's band performed, Fairpark employees would find the time to go watch him.

"It is definitely something that he enjoys, and his group has been really good over the years when we have seen him perform," she said.

Ruth said he has seen the fair rise and fall in popularity over the years. The worst fair year he can remember was in 2001 after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

But, he added, the fair is what people make of it.

"I am looking forward to a good year," Ruth said. "I'd love to see it be a great big bash."

Although fair time can be stressful, he said, it binds people together, and employees have to all work as a team.

"The thing I think I remember the most about Joe is that he is always very patient," Duncombe said.

She said Joe doesn't let unexpected circumstances ruffle his feathers.

"He is patient and calm in situations that are chaotic," Duncombe said. "I wish the rest of us could take a page out of his book."

Ruth said he plans on working at the Fairpark until he retires, but he doesn't know when that will be.

"This place has been good to me," Ruth said. "I guess I could have gone some place that probably paid more money, but you got to work someplace that you're happy with and someplace that you're comfortable with."


E-mail: nclemens@desnews.com