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Lively County Fair Closes Out Another Blue-Ribbon Run

September 28, 1998|DOUGLAS P. SHUIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If they were giving out "Super Mom" awards on the final day of the Los Angeles County Fair on Sunday, along with the ribbons for belching and doughnut-eating, then surely Nitzi Fikel would have been a contender.

As it was, Fikel, a 52-year-old nurse practitioner with the Pomona Unified School District who finds time to sew for nine grandchildren and still make prizewinning cinnamon bread and English toffee, won four ribbons.

Fikel, like the fair itself, resonates with the values of America's heartland and serves as a reminder that Los Angeles County is still home to a large, traditional middle class.

Mixed in with Fikel's prizewinning bread were muffins, cookies, pies and cakes from kitchens throughout Southern California. Just a few of the communities represented in the homemade jelly contest were Monrovia, Bellflower, Tustin, Apple Valley, Riverside and Hacienda Heights.

Fikel, who also does volunteer work with battered women and female crime victims, won first-place ribbons for her bread and toffee. A 4-foot "dancing dolly" made for a 3-year-old granddaughter won second place, and a bright-red Christmas dress that she sewed for another granddaughter won third place. It didn't seem to matter what she won.

"It's just something fun I do every year, entering a few things," said Fikel as she walked from exhibit to exhibit showing her prizewinning entries to her daughter, Kari, 19, granddaughter Staci, 7, and her granddaughter's mother, Cindy Obcamp, from Phoenix. "There's no competition. If I win, I win, if I don't, that's OK too. I have gifts for my grandchildren."

The good-natured competition is characteristic of the fair, said spokesman Sid Robinson. Billed as the largest county fair in North America, this year's version probably will draw close to the 1.3 million visitors who poured through the gates of the Pomona Fairplex last year.

Part of the mission of the fair is to offer urban children rural experiences they might not otherwise have.

As in milking cows.

Not too far from the pavilion where Fikel was exhibiting her baked goods, children in groups of 20 lined up behind cows to find out where milk comes from.

"That is the teat, right there," a fair exhibitor told one group. "When you make that fist, you are going to squeeze the milk out."

Food seemed to be as much of an attraction as carnival rides and livestock exhibits. Long lines formed behind portable fast-food trailers that dished out deep-fried "blooming onions," chili dogs, nachos, foot-long Italian sausages, caramel corn and a cornucopia of other goodies.

The food was a perfect setup for the belching contest.

Taking a deep swallow of orange soda, Alissa Benisek, 25, who was at the fair with friends from Mission Viejo in Orange County, got on stage with half a dozen other contestants. Amid much hooting and cheerleading from friends, she managed only a quiet little burp, not nearly enough to win a ribbon.

The winner was Gavin Caruso, 11, of Shadow Hills, who emitted a long and exaggerated burp that had more than 100 spectators laughing and cheering him on.

Gavin was at the fair with his parents, John and Debbie Caruso, brother Justin, 13, and sister Emily, 6. The family figured the contest was over when Gavin entered.

"He's been doing it all his life," said his father.

The Carusos dropped a T-shirt Gavin won for finishing first into a wagon they were pulling and went off searching for bargains.

John Caruso said that going to the fair each year on the last day was a tradition.

"Everything is on sale. We look for the close-outs," Caruso said.

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