The Maryland State Fair revives the Grand Parade, a treasured tradition from its past
By Nelson Coffin
Aug 24, 2016 | 7:08 AM
When the 135th Maryland State Fair revives it Grand Parade this weekend after a 35-year absence, Marvin and Libby Fox will be celebrating more than marching past the grandstand at the Timonium fairgrounds.
After all, the Parkville couple met during the parade 57 years ago and were married three years later.
At the time of their first meeting, Libby Weber, whose family owns Weber's Cider Mill Farm, in Parkville, was a member of the Cub Hill Girls 4-H Club, and had a friend in the Chestnut Ridge 4-H club.
In those days, the Grand Parade was both a showcase for, and celebration of, the accomplishments and goals of 4-H.
At the 1959 parade, while chatting with a friend, Libby, then 16, noticed Marvin Fox, as she put it, "showing off while trying to be funny," during the parade.
Instead of denying the claim, Marvin admits it was his way of catching Libby's eye.
"That's just me," Marvin said. "I was always kind of a jokester. I was trying to impress her."
Four children and eight grandchildren later, the couple is looking forward to attending another Grand Parade together Sunday, Aug. 28.
The parade "was always a great time," said Marvin, who rose through the ranks of the Baltimore County Fire Department to become a lieutenant while stationed in Towson for his entire 34-year career. "All the different 4-H clubs would be in the same area working on their floats before the parade. Everybody knew everybody else, so it was a lot of fun."
According to the organization's website, the 4-H is "America's largest youth development organization" with 6 million members, including 76,178 in Maryland. In Baltimore County, 24 4-H clubs boast 2,453 members.
Former Lutherville resident Joyce Sheats remembers helping her daughter, Valerie, make a parade float for the Dulaney Valley 4-H club 35 years ago.
"It was mostly 4-H club members in the parade, but there were some other people in it, too," said Sheats, who now lives in Sparks. "There was a theme for the parade, and the float that best related to the theme won first prize. They also gave prizes for second and third place."
The parade route began on the east side of the fairground's racetrack and made a loop of the 5/8-mile dirt oval, with hundreds of participants traveling past the grandstand before filing into the infield for the awards ceremony. This weekend's parade, which is slated to begin at 6 p.m., will follow the same route.
Hoping for wider appeal
Andy Cashman, the state fair's general manager, was a part of the last parade, which occurred on the fair's 100th anniversary, in 1981, as a member of the Chestnut Ridge 4-H Club.
His club, he said, won first prize for its float, making Chestnut Ridge 4-H club the reigning champion for more than three decades.
Cashman said that he and the fair's staff came up with the idea to revive the parade while trying to figure out how to appeal to a wider group of fans.
The fair drew 561,426 people in 2015, well above the 354,234 attendees in 2014 but short of the record attendance mark of 618,998 set in 1990.
"We were brainstorming and listening to former 4-H members and other exhibitors about their favorite things from past fairs," he said. "Many of them brought up the parade, and we thought it would be a great idea to bring it back for the 135th anniversary."
Cashman said parade participants enjoyed the camaraderie and competition between the 20 to 30 4-H clubs that participated in the float building competition.
"The parade was such a special thing," Cashman said. "It was like the last hurrah of summer."
"I'm not even sure why it stopped," he added. "But our theme for this year's fair is 'unFAIRgettable,' so we wanted to bring back something traditional. There aren't a whole lot of parades these days, so we're bringing it back. But we're broadening it."
This year's Grand Parade will feature, as did its predecessors, many agriculture-related floats. It will also boast horses and ponies, the Dulaney High School marching band, the Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Ravens mascots, Baltimore County and Maryland State police color guards, antique farm equipment, fife and drum corps and fire department vehicles.
Cash prizes, trophies and ribbons will be awarded for first, second and third place for best marching bands, floats, vehicles and novelty units, walking and performing groups and horse units.
The Rye sisters, Doris and Ruth, close friends of Marvin and Libby Fox who also live in Parkville, have memories of the Grand Parades of the 1940s.
Their late brother, Lenny, participated in what they believe was one of the first parades in 1948, when he was 16.
"He had a tractor and a plow, and his friend had a donkey and plow, showing the old and new ways of farming," said Doris Rye, who was a leader of the Cub Hill Girls 4-H Club. "That's something you couldn't do today."
Doris recalls making a float of paper mache depicting a giant loaf of bread for that year's parade.
"They'd be on the back of a regular farm truck," she said. "Everybody had floats then, and they'd come from all over the state."
Cashman recalls his fellow 4-H club members dressing up like frogs for the parade to illustrate a motto that called people to "Hop on to 4-H."
"We're trying to get it going again," Cashman said. "We've got lot of local flavor, and I think everyone loves a parade."
FUN AT THE FAIR
Thursday, Aug. 25:
•Ridemania, 5 p.m.-11 p.m.
Unlimited rides for $20
•Square dancing dance and demonstration, Cow Palace, south end, 7 p.m.-9 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 26
•Miss Maryland Agriculture Competition, Cow Palace, 8 p.m. Peterson Farm Brothers are masters of ceremony for the event.
Sunday, Aug. 28:
•Grand Parade, midway past the grandstand, 6 p.m.
•Educational display by local oyster farmers and tasting featuring a variety of farm-raised oysters, Maryland State Fair Park, 2 p.m.-7 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 29:
•Bull riding and cowgirl barrel racing, Horse Show Arena, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 2:
•Horses Healing Maryland's Military riding showcase, Horse Show Ring, 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Licensed Maryland stables offering therapeutic programs to veterans and their families.
Saturday, Sept. 3:
•Arm wrestling competition for standardized weight classes with streamlined equipment and national rankings for all competitors who win a match, near the Maryland Foods Pavilion, noon-4:30 p.m.