FLOODED WITH MEMORIES

by Ruth Nicolaus

Inter-State Fair remembers 10 year anniversary of flood

 

Coffeyville, Kan.  (January 2018)  – Ten and a half years ago, a devastating flood hit the Coffeyville area, and it paused a long-standing tradition.

 

When the Verdigris River flooded on July 1, 2007, the water poured over the levee and flooded the east side of Coffeyville, and the fairgrounds for the Inter-State Fair and Rodeo.

 

And what would have been the 100th anniversary of the Inter-State Fair and Rodeo was canceled.

 

The Verdigris River, which borders the fairgrounds on the east side, flooded the fairgrounds with ten feet of water, and with the fair and rodeo five weeks away, the decision was made to cancel that year’s event.

 

Adding to the misery of the flooding was that the water reached four feet above the levees surrounding the refinery in town, and about 90,000 gallons of crude oil was added to the floodwaters.

 

When the fair and rodeo committee met four days after the flood hit, it was difficult to face reality, said John Rinkenbaugh, who was the rodeo chairman then. “A bunch of us were having a hard time admitting we weren’t going to have a fair (and rodeo),” he said. Joe Humble, who was then the chief of police for the city, and now is the rodeo chairman, put it bluntly. “He had been to the fairgrounds,” Rinkenbaugh remembers, “and he said, there is no way. There is no way we can recover from this quickly enough to put on a fair and rodeo.”

 

So, for the second time in its 100 year history, the fair was canceled. The only other time it had been canceled was in 1943, due to World War II.

The arena and pens withstood the water damage, but the buildings at the fairgrounds did not. All the structures at the fairgrounds had to be cleaned to remove oil and mold damage, and the refinery cleaned them, along with every building that had flood and oil damage in the city. The old Floral Building, which was home to the inside exhibits, was so damaged it could not be renovated, and it was torn down. The Ron Stevenson building, which hosts the poultry and rabbits, was renovated, and the recreation center, which is where the 4-H and open class exhibits are housed, was not quite ready for the 2008 fair, but it was finished enough that it could be used.

 

The flood hit the east side of Coffeyville the hardest, and the mold, along with the oil, damaged structures beyond repair. The refinery purchased 327 houses, and tore them down, and offered businesses to be professionally cleaned.

 

For Rinkenbaugh, one of the hardest things was calling the rodeo contract personnel to tell them the rodeo was canceled. He remembers what Bennie Beutler of Beutler and Son Rodeo Co. told him. “Bennie told me, don’t worry about us,” Rinkenbaugh said. “He almost said that before I got done telling him. ‘We’ll be all right, John,’ he said. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t worried about it.”

 

The flood destroyed several hotels, which were not rebuilt in time for the 2008 event, so Rinkenbaugh had to find RVs and campers for contract personnel to stay in during the event.

 

The Inter-State Fair hosts a large regional junior livestock show, and even though the show couldn’t be held, it was decided that the market sale should occur. Doug Ott, a local attorney whose children showed sheep, came to the fair board meeting and pleaded that the fair host a sale. “Those kids had worked hard all summer,” Rinkenbaugh said, and even though there wouldn’t be any livestock shows, the sale took place.

 

Water poured over the levee for 2 ½ days, and people were not allowed back into their homes for 10 days, said Cindy Price, city clerk.  Six of the city’s seven hotels were damaged or destroyed, along with five restaurants, four convenience stores, and a grocery store. The city sales tax decreased as people were unable to work due to damaged businesses and homes.

 

But the flood also brought people together, Rinkenbaugh said. “Everybody had a common cause, a common goal. You set aside petty stuff and see the bigger picture. It’s funny how with a disaster like that, there’s a good side to it.”

 

And ten years later, the Inter-State Fair and Rodeo is going strong. “The fair and rodeo came out all right, other than missing a year,” Rinkenbaugh said.

 

This year’s Fair and Rodeo will be held the second week of August, at Walter Johnson Park in Coffeyville, and will include a pro rodeo and a bull riding. For more information, a complete schedule, and to purchase tickets, visit the website at www.FairAndRodeo.com or call the Coffeyville Area Chamber of Commerce at 620.251.2550.

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