n With county fair looming, folks share memories of Betsy the cow

by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Betsy the cow and Megan Sprute, the Washington County Dairy Princess-Ambassador, were decked out in red, white and blue for this years Fourth of July parade in downtown Hillsboro.It’s county fair time.

That got us here at the News-Times talking about memories of the fair over the years. One favorite memory we all agreed on was the refreshing, delicious ice cream served at the Washington County Dairy Women’s booth — which brought up the question — where’s the famous fiberglass cow during the fair?

Betsy, as she’s now known among friends, is the life-sized Holstein that travels many miles every year with the Washington County Dairy Princess-Ambassador to represent the county’s dairy industry in various community parades.

But Betsy no longer attends the county fair — she’s there in spirit, though, says Judy Marsh, president of the Washington County Dairy Women.

Betsy is getting along in years.

Marilyn Peters of Forest Grove may just be the fiberglass cow’s de facto historian.

She remembers back to when her parents, Glen and Lillian Ireland, brought the cow to their home north of Forest Grove in the 1960s.

Peters’ grandfather, Arthur Ireland, was an Oregon state senator at the time and somehow, she said, he got word of OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) “revamping the museum” and discontinuing the display of the cow with a milking machine.

He heard that the homeless fiberglass bovine needed, well, a new barn.

“That cow ended up at my parents’ place in the garage parked next to the car,” Peters said.

Betsy is just one of several aliases the cow has had in her day. Peters said she remembers calling her Molly Moo for years. At one time, she was named COURTESY PHOTO: WASHINGTON COUNTY DAIRY WOMEN - Betsy, the Washington County Dairy Womens fiberglass mascot, is decked out in sunglasses and a cheesehead. Betsy will neither confirm nor deny she is a Green Bay Packers fan.

“She’s had a lot of names as the generations moved along,” Peters said.

She’s also had a lot of homes, including the Peters’ dairy farm where, Marilyn said, Betsy was loaded and unloaded into pickup trucks, horse trailers and various other vehicles for transport to and from events.

Betsy has kept up her youthful appearance. “She’s been repainted many times,” Peters said. Years ago, the tip of her tail broke off. “My mother made a [new tail] out of real cow’s hair.”

My kids grew up knowing all about that cow,” Peters said. Her daughter, News-Times sales director Michelle Thomas, recalls riding in a parade as a youngster with the cow. Thomas was dressed as Swiss cheese and her younger sister, Shannon, was dressed as a mouse.

“I know there’s a picture of that around somewhere,” Thomas said, but wasn’t too keen on tracking it down to run in the paper.

When not in use as a silent yet effective ambassador touting the benefits of milk and educating “city folk” on just where their milk comes from, Betsy is now stored in a shed at the Marsh farm north of Cornelius. As president of the Washington County Dairy Women (as well a co-chair of the statewide dairy princess-ambassador program and past president of Oregon Dairy Women) Marsh has earned the right to be the “keeper of the cow.”

“She’s not a problem. She collects a little dust,” Marsh joked.

Marsh said one of the strangest appearance requests she’s ever gotten for Betsy was back in 2000 when Portland Center Stage put on a production of the Irish dark comedy, “The Cripple of Inishmaan.”

“They wanted a real cow,” Marsh said. “But I told them, ‘A live cow won’t do what you want. But we do have a fake one.’” So Betsy got the call-back and added acting to her list of life’s adventures.

Betsy is too fragile to handle kids climbing on her these days, so she no longer sits alongside the Dairy Women’s signature red barn at the Washington County Fair. She deserves a break, after all. “She’s got a lot of miles on her,” Peters said.

But the Washington County Dairy Women will be there in force next week, serving their delicious ice cream.

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