IMPERIAL — Senior citizens and military veterans gathered Friday at the front gate to receive a special treat from the Imperial Valley Expo — military honors and free entrance. Opening day marked the beginning of the ten-day California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta, a longtime Valley tradition that features animal showmanship and auctions, carnival rides and local exhibitions.
Seniors came equipped with handicapped parking placards, walking canes, walkers and family who attended to their personal needs. The veterans came wearing t-shirts and baseball caps bearing insignias telling the tale of their military service.
“The opening is a special day, because it gives us an opportunity to honor our veterans and our senior citizens,” said Joe Montenegro, president of the Imperial Valley Expo board. “They get in for free today.”
A general admission ticket for adults is usually $8 and seniors is $6.
“Senior citizens have pretty much taken over the Plaza de las Culturas,” Montenegro said.
Next to the stage was a program title: Senior Citizens of Imperial Valley(SCIV). John Hernandez, president of SCIV, emceed the event. Participating groups included El Centro Zumba ladies, Brawley senior Zumba gold and Calexico aerobics, “Recuerdos” of Brawley, Calexico ladies danźon, and Calexico Parks and Recreation Tai-Chi.
“They can see the animal exhibits and ground acts. Its going to be a good time for everybody,” Montenegro added.
Ground acts are stationary shows, but roaming performers such as Captain Jack Sparebones/Pirate Ship, Frank the Magician, Becky the Balloon artist, unicyclists and jugglers could be seen in various locales throughout the fairgrounds.
U.S. Army veteran Craig Bunker was seen walking near the Creative Arts building, not far from the main entrance gate. He served 13 years in the military including deployment in Vietnam from 1967-1969. This Brawley resident said he had not previously visited the California Mid-winter Fair & Fiesta.
“It’s my first time to come to the fair,” Bunker said. “I’m always too busy or low on money.” This year, however, Bunker said he will visit the animals. “I’m having fun.”
Brawley resident Sally Quintana Cardenas, 88, walked slowly towards the Hulsienda building. “I’m going to the quilt show,” she revealed.
Cardenas, a petite lady, is a regular visitor at the fair, she said. But this year, she did something different. She did not sign-up for the Zumba dance performance. And she didn’t do quilting either, but preferred to see the quilt display. “I enjoy coming every year for the past, at least, 20 years,” she said.
U.S. Navy veteran Melvin Guerrera was with his wife in the Hulsienda Building viewing photographs on display on several folding panels. He wore a camouflage baseball cap emblazoned with the words in capital letters —Korea-Vietnam Veteran— and other military insignias. The veteran said he served in Korea from 1954-1964 and Vietnam, 1964-1974.
Guerrera, a Yuma resident, gave his reason for visiting the fair. “Because this is the closest Costco to Yuma, Arizona.” He said he ran out of Irish cream which is available at Costco.
The opening day, although designed to serve senior citizens and military veterans, also served as an opportunity for friends and families to see and visit each other. College students on semester break took some time for a short visit back to Imperial Valley and met friends and family at the fair grounds according to Montenegro.
“We have people from Mexicali, Coachella and Yuma. People buy tickets online. This is just a nice family day to get together,” Montenegro said.