The honor came as a surprise.
Gail Merritt did not know that Crook County Fairgrounds staff had nominated her for Fair Board Member of the Year until she was announced as the winner.
“It was a surprise, and it was truly an honor to be recognized by the Oregon Fairs Association,” she said. “But I think the greatest honor was to be nominated by the Crook County Fairgrounds.”
Merritt has been the fair board chair for about a decade, and she has been an active member on the board for 16 consecutive years. In the nomination, fairgrounds staff and fellow board members call her the perfect example of a "working" member: arriving early, leaving late and working with the rest of the Fairgrounds team to make sure that everything is running like a well-oiled machine.
“From pulling weeds to coordinating the annual Greg Merritt Community Scholarship Barbeque during fair, she has been a staple of fair operations,” the nomination states. “Her seasoned advice plays a significant role in the entertainment and attractions that are brought to fair, and her hand in organizing sponsorships and volunteers is vital.”
Merritt grew up as a city girl before moving to Prineville with her husband, Greg. The fairgrounds had already been a great part of his life, she said, and when her daughters got involved in 4-H, she did as well, serving as the Crook County 4-H and FFA Livestock Committee’s treasurer. She maintained that role for 10 years but has continued to stay involved with the 4-H and FFA auction and serves as herdsmanship judge for livestock clubs each year.
In 2001, Merritt, along with family and friends, established the Greg Merritt Community Scholarship Foundation, which provides thousands of dollars in scholarships to Crook County High School graduates each year, with 71 total scholarships awarded. The annual barbecue that raises money for the foundation kicks off the fair every year.
“What really got me involved with the fairgrounds was the year I sold my farm and moved to town,” Merritt recalls. “I wasn’t quite sure what to do with my time.”
Then, someone told her about a vacancy on the fair board and suggested she apply.
Beyond fair season, Merritt serves as president of Christmas in the Pines, a free drive-thru lighted display provided at the fairgrounds during the holidays. She coordinates the volunteers, sponsorships, donations and new acquisitions for the display, which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary.
In addition to her dedication to the Crook County Fair and other fairgrounds events, Merritt has served on the Prineville City Council since 2011, the Crook County Foundation Scholarship Selection Committee and the Picnic in the Park Committee.
Fairgrounds staff concluded in their nomination that “Gail's commitment to the county fair, fairgrounds and Crook County community make her the perfect nominee for the Fair Board Member of the Year Award.”