Vows renewed below the Ferris wheel

COSTA MESA — They came full circle in front of the Ferris wheel Wednesday morning, renewing their wedding vows at the virtually empty Orange County Fairgrounds after being married for 20 years.

Normally, Bob and Deena Jackson, who were married on July 28, 1990, in Reno, Nev., are busting their tails selling beer, charbroiled corn and baked potatoes at the fair. But on this morning, the couple assumed the spotlight as an assortment of carnival friends — whom they termed "our real family" — bore witness.

The first exchange of vows was mostly humorous as Deena told Bob before the Rev. Dave Rogers that she was going to take him for "better or for worse" and "for richer or for poorer," especially for poorer, given her shopping habit.

"And I promise to take care of you when you're sick, and to never put you in an old folks home," vowed 47-year-old Deena, who is 16 years younger than her husband. "Oh, and to let you know you're getting it even when you're too old to know you're getting it."

Quipped Bob, when it was his turn to vow: "And I promise to help you with your sickness of shopping and to pick you up at Macy's."

The small crowd laughed, the three bridesmaids beamed, and the 150-foot Ferris wheel, La Grande Wheel, was turned by Tony Fiori of RCS Inc., the carnival operator. The entire wedding party managed to get in a few whirls.

"These two are the nicest people you could ever meet in the world," said Costa Mesa resident Christine Holden, an employee who's been shoveling out the corn and pouring the beer for the couple's business for four years now.

Their story is romantically unusual in that Bob actually met Deena through her mother, Judith, who, at 66, is actually three years older than her now son-in-law. In fact, she worked for Bob as far back as 40 years ago at the Los Angeles County Fair, when Bob's parents, Ernie and Marge, were running the food stands.

Bob and Deena ended up dating 27 years ago, eventually tying the knot after combining much courtship with even more carnival work, rubbing shoulders during the day and going on dates at night.

"We love the Orange County Fair and the people," said Deena, dressed in white for the occasion. "It's seriously been our favorite fair all these years. And we're not just saying that because we're doing this here. The people here are so laid back. It's the only fair left that's got a small-town feel to it."

To Bob, it's the only fair that has a beautiful set of pretty trees, something of a compliment coming from a guy who also dabbled in the Christmas tree and pumpkin-growing business for a number of years.

The Jacksons decided a few weeks ago that it would be a great idea to renew their vows at their favorite place — as bridesmaids Brittney Besemer, Debbie Duran and Vicky Bettner stood by along with Deena's daughter, Crystal Jackson, 27.

Rogers, an ordained minister who's known Bob for 30 years from their days as volunteer firefighters near Portland, Ore., drove down to preside over the ceremony. At one point, Crystal gave her mother her wedding ring to put on again, after which the couple passionately kissed to the thunder of applause.

Then it was back to the same old grind, where the crowd headed back to their respective food stands.

When the Jackson couple aren't working at various fairs across the state, they're living in Dulzura in eastern San Diego County, about 10 miles northwest of the Mexican border town Tecate. Their off-season generally is November through February.

"It used to be a great business back in the old days," said Bob, who grew up in Arkansas before his family moved to the Los Angeles area and opened food stands.

"Now it's just a living," he added. "The cost of everything has gone up."

Still, this year has definitely been better, economically speaking, than last year, he said, referring to the number of customers.

"You couldn't ask for a better job," he added. "Or, for that matter, a better wife. I've just got to learn how to control her spending."

"I don't think that will ever happen," she quipped.

Thursday At The Fair

Potential Lunatics, 1 p.m., 4 p.m. Meadows Stage, Fair Square

Crazy Hair Contest, Noon to 2:15 p.m., Fun Zone Tent and Stage, Ralphs Family Fair Way

Narrated Ceramics Demonstrations by OC Potters, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m., Crafters Village, Park Plaza.

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