Grizzlies dazzle at Boone County Fair

Thursday, July 29, 2010 | 9:13 p.m. CDT; updated 11:28 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 29, 2010
John Welde feeds Fred the bear molasses as a reward at the Boone County Fair on Thursday. Fred is one of eleven bears that live at the Welde's ranch in Florida.

COLUMBIA — Cupping their hands above their eyes to avoid the blinding sun, more than 50 people waited for the bears to arrive.

“I don’t think they are real,” Benjamin Scott, 9, said before the show began.

When two large bears walked out from behind the curtain, Benjamin realized he was wrong.

Welde’s Grizzly Bear Show, where the two bears performed tricks for fairgoers, is a new addition to the Boone County Fair this year. The bears were trained by Johnny Welde and his family.

With banjo music as a soundtrack, Welde led the two 16-year-old bears, Fred and Ginger, through a variety of tricks, including balancing on a rolling ball, rolling over, balancing on their behind, dancing and taking a basketball in their paws and walking it to a net.

After every trick the bears received a treat — often molasses — and in turn frequently gave Welde a hug or kiss.

“She (Ginger) loves her molasses,” Welde said during the performance.

Despite the heat, almost the entire crowd stayed till the end. Older children took pictures with their camera phones while the younger children simply watched and applauded each trick.

Welde was assisted during the performance by his son Johnny Jr. and his daughter, Jenny. The Weldes have been training bears since Johnny's grandfather, Johnny Johnson Welde, came to the United States. Over the years, the Weldes' bears have been used in movies and TV shows, most recently as models for the animators of Disney’s “Brother Bear,” and appeared in Tim Burton’s “Big Fish.” Although his father wants him to go to college, Johnny Jr. plans to continue the family business.

“He loves the bears too much,” Welde said about his son, “and they love him.”

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