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The winner of beard contest is -- Santa?

For the first time in roughly two decades, this year's Becker County Fair marked the return of the Beard & Mustache Competition, held on Thursday afternoon.

Organizer Roger Winter, who acted as master of ceremonies for the event, noted that the turnout had been very good; most of the seats under the big tent were filled. Earlier in the day, however, he was a little worried about whether he would have anyone to judge the competition.

"At noon today, I didn't have any judges," Winter said. By the time the competition got underway, however, he had no less than six volunteers -- including the reigning Miss Becker County Fair and Junior Miss Becker County Fair.

And there was no shortage of competitors either, as 11 men from Lake Park, Audubon, Frazee, Detroit Lakes and Callaway stepped forward to be judged and see who was the hairiest of them all.

Prizes of $100 were awarded to the first-place winner in both the beard and mustache categories -- and it was Lake Park's Jerry Russell who took first place honors in both categories.

When asked what his secret was, Russell joked, "Miracle Grow." But another secret to his success might have been his resemblance to another popular white-bearded fellow: with his red shirt and snowy white locks, Russell was dubbed "Santa Claus" by the judges.

Russell, who lives in Tampa, Fla., during the winter, noted that he does indeed play the role of the jolly red-suited fellow at several motorcycle dealerships in Florida during the holidays, and also plays Santa for a private corporate dinner each year. He said it took about a year to grow the beard to its current bushy length, and he has maintained it for several years now.

Other winners in the mustache competition were Mike Heggestuen, Detroit Lakes, who took second place; and Pat Stalberger of Callaway, who came in third.

Besides Russell, the competitors who were deemed to have the best beards were Carl Pieper, Detroit Lakes, who came in second; and Albin Warling of Audubon, who finished third.

KRCQ radio news director Jake Judd, who said he had entered the competition purely for fun, later joked of his winless status, "It's a conspiracy! All the judges were bought."

He said he would have to think about whether he was going to shave it off, or keep growing the beard and try again next year .

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

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