Switzer has participated in every Mid-State Fair since 1946

PASO ROBLES — If you have ever shown an animal at the California Mid-State Fair (CMSF) or walked through the livestock barns, you certainly encountered a lady in purple, JoAnn Switzer.

As the Fair marks its 75th anniversary with the community, it also celebrates 75 years with JoAnn Switzer. Since 1946, Switzer has been involved with the Fair in one way or another.

Switzer said, “It was a start, and it’s been nothing but go forward and bigger and better.”

Getting through this together, Atascadero

This year, Switzer decided it was time for her to take a step back and let the next generation take over the Fair.

“I’m going to be 85 in September, and I don’t want to be one of those people who needs to get out of the way. So let the next generation do it,” laughs Switzer.

Her history with the Fair began when Switzer was just ten years old. She joined the Pozo 4H Club and brought a lamb to show at the first CMSF—and it was that same year that Switzer became the Fair’s first Grand Champion for lambs. Then, the following six years, she won the 4H Grand Champion Steer.

Switzer recalls walking her winning steers in the Parade of Champions that would happen in the Grandstand before the rodeo would start.

The Fair has changed in many ways throughout its 75 (76 if you count 2020) years.

When the Fair started, it was right after World War II. Switzer says supplies were low and white pants were nowhere to be seen, so show kids wore jeans and white t-shirts.

Most kids will start showing animals in 4H and move into FFA once they reach high school. However, before 1969, girls weren’t allowed in FFA—something Switzer laughs about when she thinks back to her 4H days.

In the early days, the Fair took place in September and focused on “country stuff,” as Switzer would say.

Switzer laughs and says, “The Fair has come a long way from the horse race days and the fistfights on horseback.”

People used to come to the Fair for the hometown competitions like nail driving, mare and foul races, and more.

Switzer says the loss of these activities is one of the biggest changes of the Fair throughout the years, along with the loss of the PRCA rodeo. She remembers World Champions competing at Paso’s rodeo before heading down to compete in Los Angeles.

Showing livestock was just the start of Switzer’s involvement with the Fair.

She served on the Fair Board for eight years from 1986 to 1994, and then in 2004, she became the Livestock Superintendent and has since served the position for 17 years.

“From the time I started showing here, the support and generosity of this community only got bigger and better. It always continues, and without that, the Fair would not be what it is,” said Switzer.

She continued, “Even last year when we had COVID and shutdown, people still stepped up and supported the kids. We are a unique community for that—support for not only the auction but throughout the Fair. We are so blessed to have what we have.”

In 1987, Switzer and the late Dick Nock put together the first Cattleman and Farmers day.

Each year since, farmers and ranchers come to the Fair for the Cattleman’s luncheon and dinner.

“It has been, I think, 32 years this year, so its taken off and been an amazing event,” said Switzer.

For many, it is like a family reunion, and one of the most looked forward to events. This is also when the Cattleman of the Year is announced.

Switzer was the first woman named Cattleman of the Year back in 1992. Following her, only two more women have been named Cattleman of the year, Dee Lacey and Elena Twisselman.

While Switzer may be retiring this year, she won’t be straying very far.

The livestock barns and the people that fill them will always hold a special place in Switzer’s heart.

She says, “It’s fun to see these kids that have gone through the program and stayed in the community and have become adults, and then they’ll come back and help, which is special to me that they will give their time and come back because they got so much out of the program. That’s what makes me continue to do it.”

This year Switzer’s great-granddaughter begins showing at the Fair, making her the fourth generation Switzer to show at the Fair, following all four of Switzer’s sons, Mark, Thomas, Joel, and Jeff.

Yes, Switzer will be taking a step back after this week is over, but she will always be there to help the next generation.