Grange Fair Family Tradition: Seven Generations and Counting
The Dutrow family has seen a lot of the Grange Fair over the years -- more than most. The family has been part of the Grange Fair tradition for seven generations.
They've spent that time camped out in the front row of the Grange tents, in a spot overlooking the midway.
The family staked out its claim to that choice piece of tenting real estate when Great, Great Grandfather Dutrow got a chance to move off the back row.
Barry Dutrow tells the family story this way, "Back in 1924 their tent was down by the playground and it was pretty dusty there. My great granddad helped run the fair. ... And my granddad -- we used to have wooden floors in here and a bench and a table. He used to build all the wooden floors, he worked out here all summer long building those benches and floors and everything."
When a decision was made to move some of the concession stands, it opened up some front row tent spaces. The Dutrows snapped up their space and it's been in the family ever since -- for 89 years and counting.
Heather Dutrow-Besecker has been a fixture at the Grange all her life. "I'm missing my grandparents, my grandmother," she says. Jackie and Albert Dutrow passed away two years ago. They died within a month of each other. Grandma Dutrow's birthday was on August 25, so the family always celebrated at the Grange. It's a special memory shared by the entire family.
From their vantage point, the Dutrows can look down the hill and see the carnival rides and games. Off in the distance are the livestock pens. And of course, they can watch all of the people crowding into the nearby concession stands.
The food is a big draw here. Maybe that's what's kept the Dutrows coming back year after year. There's something for everyone -- from deep fried Oreos, to Kaluski -- a savory mix of cabbage, onion, noodles, spice and sausage. And don't forget the fudge dipped bacon. Did we mention the fried bologna on a stick?
They may be camping out, but like a lot of their neighbors, the Dutrows aren't exactly roughing it. Their tent is enclosed by a tidy picket fence with a gate. And there are a few creature comforts too. Heather says, "We got chairs, we got tables, refrigerator, microwave, pots ..."
The Dutrows have had a front row seat to lot of wacky things over the years. Barry Dutrow vividly remembers one 1 a.m. wake up call -- when everybody sleeping in the Dutrow tent thought a fire truck was about to drive right inside. "Somebody had a hot plate on back there, had a tent on fire and the fire truck come back through (the lane next to the Dutrows' tent). It sounded like it was coming through and everybody all ran and jumped to the other side," Barry says with a chuckle.
In the old days, they saw their share of tipsy fair-goers, but not too many these days. On Tuesday, they watched an animal handler stroll past with a four-foot alligator draped across his shoulder. That was followed by a man with a monkey on his back. Heather says, "That monkey likes to kiss people but you've got to give him a quarter."
Like a lot of Grange families, some members of the Dutrow clan take vacation time so they can enjoy the Grange.
Barry Dutrow retired from Penn State where he worked as a mechanical design engineer in the physics department. Co-workers were surprised to find out where he spent vacation time. "They couldn't believe I'd take off work to come down here. I said, 'You take your vacation the way you want to; I'll take mine.' This is just, every year we've done this."
Barry attended his first Grange Fair as a baby, six decades ago. "The only year I've missed out of 63 years, I was in the service," he claims proudly.
Heather's husband, Hugh Besecker says the Grange has special meaning, "It's a summer rite of passage. It's something these people do every year since ..."
"I've been here 39 years," interjects his wife, Heather. "It's a lifetime commitment."
"It really is," says her husband. "I was on the tent list for over 20 years and I never moved."
He finally got into a tent when he married into the Dutrow family.
Asked if that's why he married her, Heather laughs. "Probably," she says.
"No!" Hugh quickly fires back.