LOVINGTON, N.M. – Eight decades ago, Jake McClure was the dominant calf roper in rodeo; the Lea County, N.M., cowboy had revolutionized his event and had earned titles at the most prestigious events in the game.
His hometown event, the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, was established in his heyday. This August, the exposition will celebrate its 80th year. Inside the expansive fairgrounds on the eastern edge of Lovington sits Jake McClure Arena, home to one of the most recognized events in ProRodeo.
“No matter the amount of time that goes by, it’s the one thing that brings the county together every year,” said Corey Helton, chairman of the Lea County Fair Board. “It’s gotten bigger over the years, especially lately with the concerts and the rodeo. It’s the one event that the residents of Lea County know is going to happen every year.”
This year’s celebration is set for Friday, July 31-Saturday, Aug. 8, and will feature a touch of the historic, a splash of the new generation and a bushel of fun. The best part is the admission is just $8 for adults and $6 for children.
“A lot of people in this part of the country take pride in the county fair,” Helton said. “Every year it gets better and better, and I think people expect it to be what it is.”
From the great concerts – Ricochet, Cody Johnson, Crowder, Dan & Shay, Scotty McCreery and Gregg Allman – to the various livestock shows to Lea County Xtreme Bulls and the rodeo to the food and carnival, there are numerous reasons why this county fair is such a must-see event.
“I think we all know the fair actually started with the kids and showcasing the kids’ hard work throughout the year with the livestock shows,” Helton said. “We can never lose sight of that. It’s still about that. It’s about the sale. That’s the big thing about the fair. Yeah, we’ve had the concerts and the rodeo, but without the kids showing animals, do you really have a fair?
“The goal of every fair should be the kids.”
The Lovington event is more than just a county fair. The Lea County Fair and Rodeo has been recognized as one of the top expositions in the region, and there’s good reason. There is a concert six nights of the nine-day event, and the rodeo will feature the very best in the game, cowboys and cowgirls who will have traveled hundreds of miles to compete in southeastern New Mexico and some of the top animals in the business from Pete Carr Pro Rodeo.
“I think one of the things that’s still part of the 80-year tradition is the rodeo,” Helton said. “We continue to draw the top 10 cowboys in each event.”
It’s something Jake McClure surely would brag about if he were still on the rodeo trail. It’s something many people from Lea County talk about each summer as they anticipate the goings-on in Lovington.
“We’re going to be working with the Western Heritage Museum and recognize some of the older people in the community that have contributed so much over the years,” Helton said. “We all wanted to provide something for the people that have contributed something to the heritage of Lea County.”
It should be quite the celebration.