For nine days out of the year the Allen County Fairgrounds come alive with activity. Pigs are led around show rings, funnel cakes are consumed and cowboys attempt to ride 8 seconds on the back of a bull.
To the average fair-goer the events flow together seamlessly. But behind the scenes several dedicated volunteers help make it happen.
A group of 25 volunteers comprise the fair board. They meet once a month throughout the year to make sure everything runs smoothly the last week of July.
Angela Slocum, fair board treasurer, is one who dedicates countless hours to the planning. The fair has always been a part of Slocum’s life. She was a 4-H member as a youth and has been on the board for about 10 years. Her husband, Randy, serves as board president.
Fair week is another full time job for the Slocum family. They both take off work for the week and spend their vacation time prepping and running the fair. They even live at the fairgrounds from Friday to the end of the fair in their camper to ensure everything is taken care of.
The Slocums have four sons who are all in the Logan Pals 4-H club and have projects with animals, arts and crafts and woodworking.
Slocum said there is lots of prep work for the fair: Painting, cleaning and tune-ups on the buildings. 4-H’ers come down for a workday to set up the pens, clean up trash and tidy up.
The biggest obstacle is the rodeo arena, that sustained major damage in the flood in 2007, and continues to suffer whenever the park floods.
“A majority of the week before the fair is fixing and painting the bleachers,” Slocum said. “We have help from fair board members and stray kids at the park. We also need some electrical work done in the campgrounds because it was damaged.”
In order to keep the bleachers up to city code they must put long hours into their upkeep, Slocum said. And while new bleachers are very costly, she said that could outweigh the constant need to update the bleacher boards.
OUT OF the 25 board members about 10 come down to help through the fair week. They split up the duties and have one person over each event. There are three members who handle the open class events.
“Our biggest challenge during the fair is the people, or lack there of,” Slocum said.
Take the rodeo. Randy helps in the behind-the-scenes portion. There are four entrance gates and two people need to be at each gate to take tickets.
“People dwindle when there are that many assignments,” Slocum said.
Slocum said the fair could definitely use more volunteers throughout the week but it’s hard to have a complete stranger take cash at the event gates.
The answer is to have more people become involved with the fair board.
“We would love that,” Slocum said. “We especially need younger people in order to get new and fresh ideas. Some of our events we’ve done for years have sizzled out.”
Volunteers aren’t the only things the board is short on.
One of the main attractions through the years was the carnival rides. The Allen County fair hasn’t had a carnival in about 15 years but it all has to do with funding.
“To get a small carnival here we have to spend $10,000,” Slocum said. “We get $11,000 from the county and the rest of the money comes from local sponsorships to fill the gaps.”
The money goes to the fairgrounds, advertising and special events like the rodeo. The rodeo has more sponsorships than any of the events. The Southwind Extension Agency coordinates the awards for 4-H’ers at their events but the fair board gives them the money to cover those expenses.
She said the board is working on fundraisers.
ANOTHER HELPING hand throughout the week is board member Carolyn Moore. Moore has served meals to the cowboys and competitors in draft horse and tractor pull competitions for several years. Slocum said Moore feeds about 80 to 100 people each event night and starts prepping items like cookies, early.
“They look forward to it because they don’t get that anywhere else,” Slocum said. “They are able to come inside the community building and get out of the heat and have a meal.”
The competitors typically are served a sandwich, potato salad, chips and baked goods. They are allowed to bring one extra person to eat for free but any additional person has to pay for the meal.
The rodeo is on Friday and Saturday nights. In the past the fair went through a different rodeo company and would host the rodeo on Tuesday nights. After switching to URA-MRCA the event was moved to the weekends because the cowboys worked during the week.
“The problem with having it on the weekend is the animals aren’t down here yet and not a whole lot of the fair is set up,” Slocum said. “Becky (Robb) has started opening up the baby barnyard early so people do have something to see the first weekend.”
This year’s fair has multiple events lined up. Tonight the rodeo will start at 8 o’clock. Tickets are $10 or attendees can use two event tickets.