Since 1969, the Oregon Country Fair has provided attendees a temporary, zany escape from reality. It has changed over the decades, but its original values and pastimes are still key to the experience. One of those constants — unbeknownst to most — is the Rich family, and for them, the Fair is not an escape from reality, but an integral part of it.
Rarely does a year pass without a member of the Rich family passing through OCF’s gates — or a member standing guard over those gates. Four generations of Rich family members have visited and worked at the Fair. They’re blacksmiths, security guards, vendors and sometimes just faces in the crowd.
“It’s our tribe and these are our high, holy days,” says Sarah Rich, 48, a backup manager at OCF. “It’s where we get together and do what we do with a lot of love and fun and take care of each other.”
Sarah Rich’s father Jim ran a blacksmith’s booth at the Fair in the 1970s, and he would bring his children along. Although she says they didn’t go every year, more often than not in the early days of the Fair there was a Rich somewhere in its midst.
In 1989, Sarah Rich first went to work at the OCF as a security guard, helming the hectic midnight to 6 pm shift for 11 summers.
Working security, she laughs, was “never a dull moment; you want to have positive interactions, but it’s not always possible when people have a different frame of mind than you do.”
There was added impetus to be diligent, she adds, as her children Suzanne, Sonja and Jake were usually in attendance.
Continuing her mother’s legacy, one of Sarah’s daughters followed her to the Fair as a security guard, working the afternoon shift, a job she took to with gusto.
“She’d bring a bag of candy and if someone was smoking she’d ask him or her to put it out and hand them a lollipop instead,” she says. “Even though we have this security job to do, we make it fun.”
And now, the fourth generation of the Rich crew, Sarah’s grandson, Lucky, is making his mark on the Fair, running a booth selling crystals and rocks on the children’s loop.
“My grandson is 7 years old, and he’s always looking for the next best thing to sell at the Fair,” she laughs. “He’s taking after my dad as a vendor.”
Over the decades the OCF has seen thousands of people come and go, but it’s also seen many come and stay.
“It’s a big deal for our family; it’s where we go to have fun with each other and enjoy a different way of living,” Rich says. “It’s almost where we rejuvenate.”