A gallon of gas cost .10 cents, and the average price of a new car was 763.00 dollars, the year was 1938. That same year the Galveston County Fair and Rodeo held their first-ever event. This year, it is the 80th year of the Galveston County Fair and Rodeo, and it will be a celebration you will not want to miss. The 2018 entertainment lineup is out, livestock projects are on the final stretch, and the transformation at the fairgrounds into fair time is starting to take shape. This year’s fair is April 13th to 21st. The 9-day fair run is filled with family fun and is a true hometown fair experience.
Past President of the Galveston County Fair and Rodeo, Ernie Deats, has seen the Galveston County Fair and Rodeo grow into a thriving event for the coastal area and has grown into a powerhouse of support for the youth of the county. The 78-year-old resides in Dickinson, Texas and still runs a cattle ranch there, he is one of the oldest surviving Presidents of the Galveston County Fair and Rodeo. Deats says the fair has grown tremendously, “It’s daylight to dark, compared to now. They can put this on my tombstone, if you are going to change America for the better, you need to start with kids that need a helping hand, and get them doing something with their life,” says Deats whose years as President spanned, 1977 to 1979. Under Deats, the fair board started the scholarship fund and awarded their first scholarship. “It was a scholarship for 500 dollars and at that time, we didn’t know where we would get the money for it.” Today, the GCF&R awards thousands of dollars in scholarships in excess over $73,000. “I was raised poor, so I know, it means so much to at least get them (the kids) started. Let the kids realize they can do this, they can get a better job, get a better income for their families, and this gives them a chance to do something for a better life.”
For the veteran fairgoer, many remember the fair at Runge Park. Many of the volunteers and committee persons have cherished memories from the Runge Park days. Deats was President when the deal was struck to move the Fair and Rodeo to the fairgrounds at the current location, Jack Brooks Park. “Runge Park had no fences, no parking and we just outgrew it, there was no more room. We also knew to be financially stable; we had to move. I signed the first contract with the county to get into Jack Brooks Park,” says Deats. The move to Jack
Brooks Park was completed in time for the 1984 Fair. The contract that Deats signed was for 50 years, “I can’t remember the exact amount, but I believe it was a dollar for the year,” said Deats. “I am so blessed to get that started; revenue jumped once we moved it to the current location and look how we have grown and how we are able to help kids county-wide.”
Deats was also President when the BBQ cook-off became a tradition of the Fair and Rodeo. Deats explain how the cook-off came to be, “BBQ cook-offs, we didn’t know what it was, and neither did anyone else. Well, it was explained to me that people would come out to cook, drink beer, eat, and have a good time. I asked, ‘How much is this going to cost us?’ and I was told, no they pay you to come out and do it. Hell yes, we will do it!” The first year, five teams competed, and the following year it doubled in size to ten teams. Several of the original teams are still competitors in the current competition which has 278 entries. “Look what it has grown to now. That is one huge thing that we started, and I never dreamed it would end up how it has, it has turned into a major deal,” said Deats. The Galveston County Fair and Rodeo is now home to the largest county fair BBQ cook-off in the State of Texas. The Fair also hosts a seafood cook-off on opening weekend.
The fair’s humbled beginnings in 1938 laid a strong foundation that has grown into a
standard for our community. In 2017 the livestock auction generated over $500,000 for the youth livestock exhibitors. As part of the 80 years celebration on the sneak peek night, Thursday, April 12th admission is free, and 8 dollar all-you-can-ride wristbands will be on sale at the carnival.
Approximately 600 4H and FFA youth exhibitors will be participating in the 2018 livestock shows, agricultural mechanics, and youth project shows. For ticket information and a full fair schedule visit our website at http://galvestoncountyfair.com.