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Member of fair board works behind the scenes for success

(Jennifer Priest Mitchell is a freelance writer in Beaverton. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Everyone loves the county fair. Kids can ride the carousel and mini roller coaster from noon to midnight. Dads and grandpas test drive the John Deere lawn tractors. Moms and grandmoms enjoy those messy elephant ears and homemade lemonade (the old-fashioned, shaken-in-a-cup kind).

In spite of the fact that fairs seem to have remained the same for decades (and face it, that's much of why we love to go), the county fair has a board, and those board members work tirelessly to address the needs and demands of a changing population.

Rich Vial, a farmer, an attorney, father of 13 and grandfather of 23, is the current chairman of the Washington County Fair Board. He knows a few things about the event, the animals and exhibits, and indeed, about the people - the changing faces and interests of those who frequent the fair.

'I became interested in the county fair because my family began showing registered angus beef cattle in 1986,' he said. 'My wife and I have been married just over 30 years and we have 13 children- six birth children, and seven Vietnamese children we adopted- and they've all been involved with this.

'You could say that our cattle ranch is a 4-H project that got out of control.'

He wouldn't have it any other way, though. In 1986 his then-14-year-old son Nicholas made a comment to a neighbor, Pat Morin, that he'd like to show cattle at the county fair. As Vial puts it, 'The next thing I knew, (Morin) delivered a black angus cow to us!'

He said that they showed the animal and had a great experience, and over the years they've continued in this hobby-turned business and had a great time.

'My youngest is now a senior in high school, but within two or three years I will have grandchildren old enough to show. Of our 23 grandkids, all of them that are old enough to understand to want to show,' he said with great pride.

And why not? This little 4-H project from 20 years ago has really grown up.

The family ranch, Scholls Land and Cattle, includes approximately 20 head of registered breeding cattle, as well as some more in partnership with a ranch in Central Oregon.

Vial explained that they raise breeding stock for herd improvement. The cattle are then sold to other ranches so that they can improve their lines. One of the qualities of his cattle that Vial is particular proud of is calving ease. He explains that cows that can deliver calves without assistance are highly desirable.

Not only is Vial proud of his family and their cattle ranch, he said he is also very proud and excited about the Washington County Fair and all that the board is doing to maintain community interest for the event.

'I am very interested in preserving tradition and in maintaining the quality and traditions of the county fair, and also excited about facilitating change and being a part of that change,' he said.

Vial said because fewer people who come to the fair have daily experiences with agriculture, the board works to adapt exhibits and educational components to meet visitors' interests and needs.

For example, coming the fair and seeing farm animals is a novelty to many families, so the things they see must be accessible and interesting. The focus must include gardening exhibits, smaller pets, and more technology. People are sometimes fearful of animals and the diseases they could carry, so those fears are alleviated.

Vial is a native Oregonian who, as he puts is, 'has practiced condo and home association law in the Portland area since 1978 … so I can afford to live on a farm and raise cattle.'

He says that he and his wife feel that they live in the ideal spot (Scholls), as they can experience the culture, events and people of Beaverton and Portland, but really live on a farm and enjoy that lifestyle.

For more information on the Washington County Fair, which runs from July 27-30 and is free to enter each day, go to www.faircomplex.com and follow the links to the fair.