It’s a standing appointment that’s been scores in the making for 91-year-old Columbia resident, Delores Lee.
And every October, it’s one she looks forward to keeping when the South Carolina State Fair rolls into town each year.
“I still love the fair,” explains Lee, who has parlayed a childhood tradition into a cherished annual outing. “I never miss a fair.”
Originally from Florence, Lee first started attending the State Fair shortly after her family moved to Columbia when she was 10 years old. Those early visits, combined with the memories of her previous hometown fair, marked the birth of a passion that has continued to grow during the past 80 years.
“I’m sure I went to the fair the first year I came here,” Lee explained. “I couldn’t believe all the sounds and the lights, and the activities and the smells. Everything caught my eye.”
Lee recalls making several trips to the fair with her family, friends, and dates – often multiple ones – while growing up in Columbia. She continued those visits as an adult with her husband, the late Richard M. Lee Sr., and her two children, Deedie Lee Jordan and Richard Lee. Jr., who both still live in Columbia.
And through the years her ties to the fair would only grow deeper.
Lee worked several years for the South Carolina Dairy Association selling milk for 10 cents a cup in the barns with the cows. And she and her children eventually joined her husband, who was a member of the Eau Claire Exchange, selling corndogs for several years in the Eau Claire Exchange booth.
When the fair’s former Steel Building, now the Ruff Building, burned in 1966, Lee’s two children recall her crying and taking them to the fairgrounds to view the rubble. But most of the family’s fair memories are of much happier times.
Lee began entering the fair’s various baked goods events in her late 20s and earned more than 25 blue ribbons and multiple Sweep Stake awards through the years, including for best biscuits. Her husband, who worked for Adluh Milling Co. as the sales representative, provided her with flour and meal to prepare her entries of cakes, breads, biscuits, muffins and other delicious treats. And Adluh presented money to the ladies who used the company’s flour and earned prizes in recognition of their accomplishments.
Many of Lee’s ribbons have been framed, while the others are kept in a drawer in her dining room.
But she stepped away from comptitive baking several years ago.
“I’m done baking,” she said. “I’m 91 years old now.”
Even so, Lee says she is anything but done with the fair.
“Everybody is happy, and I like it. I love to walk around and look at people,” she said, noting that she compliments her people-watching by helping herself to some of her favorite fair foods during her annual visits.
“I like all of them, but I do enjoy a corndog,” she said.
Lee recalls just one year she has missed a South Carolina State Fair as an adult, the lone absence coming when she and her husband were stationed at Fort Benning Army Base. And she said she plans to keep it that way.
“As long as I can walk, crawl or whatever, I will be at that fair.”