The Iowa State Fair board of directors has named Delbert Routh of Diagonal as grand marshal of this year’s Iowa State Fair. With his wife Bernadine by his side, Routh will lead the annual Iowa State Fair Parade from the Capitol down Grand Avenue toward Pappajohn Sculpture Park 6:15 p.m. Wednesday.
The honor of grand marshal for the Iowa State Fair is bestowed on a person who shows exceptional leadership qualities and service to the fair and community. Routh, a farmer and business owner born and raised in Ringgold County, was selected for the honor based on his 51 years of service at the fair representing the company he co-founded, Palco Livestock Equipment.
“Well, I just got a phone call. I think what really caught me in was years ago I used to furnish a deal of stuff for the fair,” said Routh.
Routh’s company provided a number of cattle and livestock equipment for the fair, such as chutes, panels, gates, carriers and other handling equipment. He also broke mules for his friend Kenny Calvin, which the two showed with their families in the fair’s grandstand show pavilion.
Along with his friends, Routh was also responsible for creating the Big Bull contest, which first premiered at the Iowa State Fair in 1983. Palco was a sponsor of the Big Bull, Big Boar and Big Horse contests.
“It was just a way to attract more people to the fair,” said Routh. “Everyone is trying to raise the largest animal, so, we got people to bring in their bulls and see who can outweigh the other.”
Routh has yet to miss a fair since 1965, but has been to it many times before. One of his most memorable trips to the fair was his very first as a sophomore in high school in 1941.
“George Bailey had just got a new truck. He put straw bales around, a tarp over the top and charged so much a head to go ride up there to the fair,” said Routh. “My dad and I went and rode in the back of it.”
Routh had a hard time sleeping from all the fair excitement that day.
“Bill Bentley and I stuck our head out of the tarp the whole ride home while the rest of them were trying to sleep. It was a good time,” said Routh.
Routh said his favorite aspect of the fair is always the people, and he enjoyed camping with the Clearfield Lions Club, which he is a member of.
“I used to have a booth in front of the cattle barn and I’d see everyone there. I’d sell them some equipment and they’d come back year after year. I’ve always enjoyed the people,” said Routh.
While many fairgoers are awaiting to try the new deep-fried items on a stick, Routh said he doesn’t necessarily indulge in the food.
“After you work so many fairs you don’t get overloaded on it,” said Routh.
Routh is honored and a bit surprised to have been chosen as grand marshal.
“I was told they (the fair board) had a meeting and I don’t know who threw my name in, but no one voted against it and he said, ‘So, you’re it,’” said Routh with a chuckle.
Routh will also be present to greet people at the opening of the fair 9 a.m. Thursday.
For more information on admission, hours, food and special events at the Iowa State Fair, visit www.iowastatefair.org.