Delicate balancing act at crux of Pickaway County fair planning

Delicate balancing act at crux of Pickaway County fair planning


by Craig Lovelace

A long, long time ago, my eldest sister dated a guy who, to a 9-year-old kid, was the coolest person. He was nice and rode a motorcycle, and his name was Mike.

During that summer, as I remember, Mike took me to a county fair in northeast Ohio where my family lived. I don’t recall anything about that excursion except for the frayed leather coat he bought me, which I quickly dubbed my Daniel Boone jacket. I wore that jacket all the time until growing out of it.

The memory of the Daniel Boone jacket carried over into adulthood and any time I visit or write about a county fair, I think about it. That memory returns whenever I have a particularly good milkshake and I weigh whether it measures up to the ones the Medina County 4-H made for that community’s fair.

Memories are internalized and mean something different to each individual. However, the idea of memories has been ever-present in recent weeks as local county fair boards awaited state direction about the status of their fairs amid concerns foisted upon us by COVID-19. Should they get cancelled? Can they be modified? 

Those really were the two choices, and whether in newspapers, online publications or through social media, commentators strongly expressed that a full Pickaway County Fair is most desirable because the annual events are primarily for the youth. And, I think, they bond each of us – whether you are a rural resident or urbanite – to the country’s agricultural roots.

It was a waiting game until Thursday when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced he was leaving the decision up to the local fair boards working in conjunction with their local health departments. The shared caveat is that all fairs must follow state orders already in place and designed to prevent spread of the coronavirus. It was the right move and provided somewhat of a green light to groups such as the Pickaway County Agricultural Society Senior Fair Board.

“It is pretty much what we were anticipating,” said Christy Pence, secretary for the senior fair board in a note to The Pickaway Press. “We are especially pleased that they will be leaving the bulk of the decision making to local officials as every town, county, region, board, community and their demographics are different, and have to do what they have support and resources to do. … For now, we are highly confident that our [junior] fair exhibitors can continue working hard to finish their livestock projects in preparation for the fair!”

This is a course, she says, the local fair board has been traveling, but squaring away its plans won’t occur until the board’s regular monthly meeting June 8.

Why the wait? I have no doubt the board has been planning for alterations but announcing them 12 days before the June 20 start of the fair seems to be cutting it close. It is either really prepared or has a flurry of activity kicking into high gear.

I asked the board to provide some hints about lingering questions they may still have regarding how the fair is going to work. The board’s response is proactive and pragmatic even amid a pandemic that has claimed more than 100,000 American lives. I personally don’t envy what they are up against.

Pence writes for the board: 

“None of that will be completely decided upon, finalized and communicated until further conversations with the local health department, and [when the senior] fair board votes on June 8. 

“As you know, the information changes daily. There are a lot of moving parts, including possible information coming out from the governor next week around amusement parks, which will be a key part in further determining what our fair looks like. It is important that we are not putting information out that is unknown, speculation, incomplete and can likely change, as that causes a lot of confusion and frustration for the [junior] fair exhibitors and the public. When we communicate the plan, we want to be able to include complete, definitive, accurate, clear information with full instructions and directives, and be confident that the plan is “THE” plan.”

Howard Call is the executive director of Ohio Fair Managers Association whose members are county agricultural societies and independent fairs across the state. He said DeWine’s words Thursday were a shot of adrenalin for the fair community, including from sponsors who want to help their local fair.

“This is going to be tough on the June fairs, but people are saying that they want to make this happen for the kids,” he said.

And the memories will continue.

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