Garfield County Fair quilt honors uncanny rivalry
It’s said that competition breeds excellence, and if that’s true then it can also spark a friendship that spans decades.
For Cathy Meskel, the first time she came to the Garfield County Fair and Rodeo nearly 20 years ago, it was to find fun and entertainment for her two children, never thinking that it would start a rivalry that 27 years later she considers the “most prized times of her life.”
Over the years, Meskel won more ribbons for canning and food preservation during fair week than she knew what to do with. So this year she decided to put them to use to honor the one person to whom she most attributes her success, her top rival, Darleen Mackley.
On display at the South Hall of the Garfield County Fairgrounds along with all the entries in this year’s food preservation contest is Meskel’s Garfield County Fair Ribbon Memories Quilt, honoring her friend and biggest canning rival.
“My biggest competition was always Darleen, and to this day whenever I can food, I think about her,” Meskel explained.
When Meskel first arrived at the Garfield County Fair and Rodeo in 1990, it was with her kids Timothy and Mandi. The three of them wandered into the canning room by mistake and after just a few minutes a new family tradition was born.
Meskel was immediately taken with the skill she saw embodied in the entries that year, with cans stacked from floor to ceiling, as she described it. There she received a piece of wisdom that turned the dog days of summer into her favorite time of year.
“Honey, if you don’t enter you can’t win,” insisted Mackley, who went right up to Meskel to introduce herself and tell her about the competition.
That year, Meskel would enter over 10 jars in the open class competition, winning a ribbon for each one of them.
“From then on for about 10 years, fair week was the best week of the year,” she added.
For Mackley, it was just business, as she’s spent decades recruiting new canners for a competition in which she’s participated for more than 60 years.
In fact, at the 1982 Garfield County Fair, Mackley actually had to bring back old ribbons that she had previously won to reuse for that year’s competitors because there was no money for new ribbons. Months earlier, ExxonMobil shut down operations in Parachute, leaving 2,000 people out of work, remembered as “Black Sunday.”
In all her efforts in keeping canning alive and well at the county fair year after year, few were as impacted as much as Meskel and her family, which is why she created the quilt.
Meskel’s kids would even get in on the fair fun, entering a 14-foot sunflower one year, and gathered a collection of ribbons on their own.
“I hope that others may be inspired because of her like I was,” Meskel said.