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Ribbons pile up for longtime fair exhibitor

by HEIDI DESCH
Daily Inter Lake | November 14, 2022 12:00 AM

Sharon Askelson has earned so many ribbons at the Northwest Montana Fair in the nearly five decades she’s been submitting entries that she’s stopped keeping track.

“I always give the ribbons back because I know they have to buy them and I don’t have the space to keep them anyway,” she said. “I started putting them on boards, but then what was I going to do with all those boards?”

What she does know is the blue ribbon tally from this summer’s fair — 47 — putting her at 30 more than her nearest competitor. It was also enough to earn her Open Class Exhibitor of the Year for a record sixth time.

To earn the award, an exhibitor must receive the most blue ribbons in five or more open departments. Winners are also eligible to earn the honor on non-consecutive years.

Going into this year’s fair, Askleson thought she had won the year before so wouldn’t be eligible for 2022.

“It was nice this year because I didn’t even realize I had won until after the fair,” she said from her home in Kalispell.

She enters dahlias and gladiolus in the fair, flower arrangements of live and artificial flowers, fudge in the home culinary category, photos and the Mr. Potato Head competition that asks competitors to dress up a potato. She has roughly 75 entries for the fair each year.

While she talks fondly of earning the Exhibitor of the Year award, Askelson isn’t too invested in the competition. She’s more interested in the social aspect that comes with the fair.

“I pretty much spend my time at the fair for three days,” Askelson said. “I enjoy listening to people talk about the fair and there are people I only see once per year at the fair.”

Besides entering the fair, Askelson serves as superintendent of the dahlia and gladiolus show which increases the time she spends at the event. It was the late Bill McClaren, who founded the Montana Dahlia Society, that encouraged Askelson to enter the dahlia and gladiolus show.

“There weren’t too many people making arrangements and that’s what I enjoy doing.”

Roses were the first flowers she entered in a competition. She won ribbons at the rose society gatherings held in Kalispell and then became involved with the American Rose Society attending national conventions. She has traveled to Spokane and Missoula, along with a list of major U.S. cities and Toronto, Canada, with her roses packed in jars of water in coolers. She enjoyed traveling to national competitions with people who have a shared interest.

“When you sit next to someone you can always talk about roses,” she said.

While she helps friends with their flower gardens and chats at competitions, she also enjoys the quiet time spent outside.

“The flowers don’t talk back to you,” she says with a laugh.

Taking the time to load her car with as many exhibits as possible and head to the fair each August has been important to her.

“Flowers are hard because you don’t know if they’re going to boom at the right time and roses don’t like to bloom in August,” she said. “You hope and pray they will bloom when they are supposed to.”

This summer the weather didn’t cooperate with providing enough dahlias needed to make arrangements.

“But I try to take as much as I can to help fill it out because people like the flowers a lot,” she said.

Features Editor Heidi Desch may be reached at 758-4421 or hdesch@dailyinterlake.com.