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MALIN — Despite lack of snow, drought and water concerns all summer; the harvest time is finally here signaling time once again to celebrate with the annual Klamath Basin Potato Festival.

The 81st annual rendition of this beloved event held each year in Merrill will commence Saturday with the annual banquet, talent show and queen coronation. Festivities continue Oct. 19-20 with a wide variety of potato-themed community events in celebration of the Basin’s biggest crop. Set to the theme “Potatoes Grow Where Water Flows,” the event presented each year by the Merrill Lions Club is a chance for growers, workers, residents and welcome visitors to the Klamath Basin celebrate.

Personifying the spirit of the festival is the Ongman family — this year’s grand marshals. Represented by Tom and Larita Ongman as well as Jon and Diane Ongman, the family continues to operate the Merrill Lumber Company, which is entering its 90th anniversary of business operations in the Klamath Basin.

In addition to lumber, the family has a strong history of teaching. Larita is the current principal of Malin and Merrill Elementary Schools, and the couple’s children have all been involved in education.

Continuing a tradition established since 1937, the Potato Festival will commence with a competition to crown this year’s Klamath Basin Potato Festival queen.

Comprised of a talent show, essay contest, required raffle ticket sale tally and pageant competition, young women from across the Basin will compete for the title and scholarships at the opening banquet Saturday at 4 p.m. Candidates include Olivia Boettger of Tulelake High School, Irene Aguirre of Lost River High School, Pati Graciano of Butte Valley High School, Haylee Hansen of Bonanza High School, Michaela Nelson of Mazama High School, and Jennifer Schneider of Henley High School.

Accompanying the candidates will be this year’s 2018 junior princesses — Eden Nunn and Jillian Todd. Tickets for the banquet and queen coronation are $20, $15 for children 12 and under. Tickets are pre-sold at Merrill Lumber, R&J Auto, Martin’s Food Center, A Country Salon and through schools. No tickets will be sold at the door.

Starting on Thursday, Oct. 18 exhibit entries will be accepted at the Merrill Civic Center through no later than noon on Friday. Contest categories include a photo contest, floral, arts and crafts, needlework, carved pumpkins, produce, potatoes and vegetables plus imagination, a grower potato exhibition, potato foods including best potato salad in the Basin, and even a school class group project contest. Cash prizes will be awarded following judging on Saturday, Oct. 20 at 4 p.m.

Friday night features a longstanding tradition of the Potato Festival — a football game. What first began as a community rivalry game between Merrill and Malin, now gets played out among high school football squads. Friday night’s Spud Bowl will welcome Rogue River High School to Lost River at 7 p.m., followed Saturday by Pop Warner Football action starting at 10 a.m.

Saturday, Oct. 20 begins with the Linkville Lopers’ annual Spud Run, a community fun run through Merrill. Registration starts at 8 a.m. and the event begins at 9 a.m., following a two-mile or five-mile course that starts and ends at the corner of S. Main Street and Highway 39. Registration is $5 per person for the two-mile (or $10 per family) and $10 per person for the five-mile run.

Festivities continue with the annual Potato Festival Parade, which begins at 11 a.m. on Front Street next to the Presbyterian Church. A free community barbecue followed at 12:30 p.m. outside Merrill Civic Center, with enough food to feed 1,500 people.

Throughout the afternoon a beer garden will be offered courtesy of Mia’s and Pia’s Pizzeria and Brewhouse behind the Polar Bear, and live music by the Merrill flagpole by Old Time Fiddlers and the Stukel Mountain Stranglers, from 12-3 p.m.

Saturday will also include a Rural Communities Health and Wellness Fair from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., offering free blood pressure checks, blood sugar, cholesterol and scoliosis screenings. They will even provide free haircuts, and snacks will be available.

The Potato Festival culminates at 4 p.m. with raffle drawings inside the Merrill Civic Center.

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email @kliedtkeHN

Staff reporter for the Herald and News.