Lamar Free Fair
The Pride of Barton County for 75 Years

By Kathleen Swift • Photo by Savanah Mandeville

Terry and Edwin Moore have been a part of the Lamar Free Fair most of their lives. It was their dad, Bud Moore, whose initiative gave life to the fair 75 years ago.

“Dad came home from serving in France during World War II,” said Terry, “and wanted to expand on the carnival that had been going on every year. We didn’t have fair grounds in Lamar at that time, but it was a booming farm community. With the help of the city, Dad organized the fair on
the square.”

Holding the record for the longest-running free fair in Missouri, the Lamar Free Fair enjoys a reputation as one of the best fairs around. 

“We still hold the carnival on the square, which is roped off for a week,” said Terry. “It’s good because if it rains, we are on pavement, and once the rain stops, we are back in business.”

The Lamar Free Fair draws people into the community. As the Moores put it, “It’s a happening!” People from Joplin, Springfield, Carthage, Pittsburg and other communities come to enjoy the festivities that week. “It’s unique because it is a free fair,” said Terry. “There is no entry fee, parking is free, and the entertainment is free. The only thing that costs are the carnival rides and food and other items sold by vendors.”

The fair draws hometown people back, too. Many classes have their reunions during fair week, which runs from August 18 to August 25 this year. Fair week becomes a kind of homecoming for the citizens of Lamar. It’s a time to get together, welcome others to the community and enjoy the parade, pageant, livestock shows, games, rides, food and more.

The fair couldn’t take place without the scores of volunteers who begin planning for the fair a year in advance.

“We want to keep the fair going, and we have about 50 volunteers who help plan and keep the fair running,” said Edwin. In addition to the volunteers, the city, the mayor and the police all help in planning and coordinating. 

“During fair week, our town of 4,000 will welcome about 40,000 people. We enjoy doing it, and both Edwin and I are still in pretty good health, so we haven’t hung it up yet. This is my 51st year to help work at the fair. Dad died young, so Edwin and I took up the work years ago. As someone said, the only way to retire from the fair committee is to die,” quipped Terry.

One of the main attractions during the fair is the parade, which will be held on Saturday. 

“The parade is one of the biggest parades in Missouri,” said Terry. “There will be antique cars and tractors and floats and more in the parade.”

The square will be a lively place with the Evans United Shows carnival from Plattsburg, Missouri, operating in the evenings beginning August 22. There will be 25 rides for both kids and adults. Arm bands that allow unlimited rides can be purchased in advance for $15 at the Lamar Bank and will be available for $17 at the carnival.

“We’ll have local food vendors, too,” said Terry. “It’s a long-standing tradition to keep our food vendors limited to local church, school and civic clubs. And the square will be filled with exhibitors from all over, too.”

With the addition of the Moore pavilion in 2001, the livestock shows are held during fair week in the open-sided structure that houses beef cattle, sheep, goats and hogs raised by 4-H members. “We award ribbons and prizes, and this year, the ribbons will be special 75th anniversary commemorative ribbons,” added Edwin.

The American Legion building will house the grain, flower, vegetable, quilts, woodworking and hobby displays. These, too, will be judged, and the winners will be awarded commemorative ribbons and will receive a small check.

Terry and Edwin echo Mayor Kent Harris, who said, “This is a big deal for our small town, Barton County and Southwest Missouri.”

And for Terry and Edwin, each year from the early planning until the last tent is taken down, it’s a reminder that what their dad started 75 years ago is still alive and thriving and bringing the community together.

Fair Facts

Started by Bud Moore in 1943

Largest Free Fair in Missouri

Largest parade in Missouri

Approximately 40,000 visitors over
a four-day period

More than 50 community volunteers work
for a year planning the fair

Judges and volunteers are “paid” with a ticket for a free BBQ chicken dinner

Terry and Edwin Moore have been planning and working on the fair for over 50 years