Jeff Keefer will never again sit in his box seats, look to his right, and imagine his late grandmother playing the organ as she did for 40 years as riders took saddlebreds, Morgans and other horses to the show ring.
Keith Cupp recalls that the old grandstand at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds once had more ambiance.
“It used to have cast-iron fences along the front,” Cupp said. “They tore those out much to the chagrin of some of us.”
Evette Moody was in a baby basket during her first Dayton Horse Show. But when the 150th show comes to a close Saturday for the last time in Dayton, Moody said she’ll be a “basket case.”
“It’s very emotional for all of us,” said Moody, 58, the show’s director for 15 years.
The horse show is the final event scheduled in front of the historic iron-trussed, wood-covered grandstand along South Main Street before the 38-acre fairgrounds site is open for uncertain development plans by new owners Premier Health and the University of Dayton.
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“Those memories will be etched in my mind forever,” said Keefer, 62, as he talked about the years alongside his grandmother and showing horses with his family at the 161-year-old site.
“It is old. There’s no question. But to me old is character and tradition. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing,” said Keefer of North Canton who first came to the show as a 7-year-old. “When you grow up with that being part of your fabric, you just don’t want it to go away.”
The fairgrounds is set to move six miles to the west, but the show that attracts about 200 entries a year will not immediately follow, said Moody of Centerville.
She said the organization is looking for a transitional facility in the area for a couple years before a possible commitment is made to the new fairgrounds, to be built over the next year at Arthur O. Fisher Park in Jefferson Twp.
“Construction can be really tricky. If we have a bad winter they are going to be slower, and we can’t wait until next spring to know whether they are going to be far enough along to accommodate us,” Moody said.
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Though engineering plans are yet to be completed and no contractors have been hired, a groundbreaking at the new 150-acre site is set for Aug. 19 at 2 p.m., said Greg Wallace, the fairgrounds’ executive director and project manager.
While the horse show is the last event scheduled for the grounds, Wallace said indoor events at the Coliseum are booked through spring.
The future of the current Dayton fairgrounds may become clearer within the next few months, according to the two new property owners.
“Later this year, Premier Health and the University of Dayton plan to outline a process, through which public input will be considered in creating a community-minded vision for the former Montgomery County fairgrounds property,” the organizations wrote in a joint statement.
Cupp, the publisher of a horse magazine from Lexington, Ky., recalled the many big Shriner parades that opened the horse show.
“I mean it was a big deal,” he said. “The times have changed.”
Moody said during a decades-long relationship with the Antioch Shrine Temple, about $2 million from the horse show went to the Shriners Hospitals for Children. The show continues its mission to aid children and now benefits the Therapeutic Riding Institute.
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In addition to being home of the Dayton Horse Show for 150 years, the fairgrounds played host to many historic events over the same time, including the presentation of the Congressional Medal of Honor to Orville and Wilbur Wright, Moody said.
“One of our exhibitors who’s been here for years calls it ‘hallowed ground’ that we get to show horses on.”
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