AlliedNews.com - Grove City, Pennsylvania

August 28, 2012

Tradition, tech keep 'Great' in fair

Jim Henderson to be feted, volunteers sought


Allied News

STONEBORO — The Great Stoneboro Fair has had its share of changes over the years to keep operations up to date, but organizers promise they'll continue to uphold the traditions fair-goers know and love.

"We want them to think it's like going home," said Vivian Hefferman, who's in her 12th year as fair secretary.

Those traditions include rides, games, food, live music, demolition derby, animals, exhibits, fireworks, contests and the Mercer County Antique Power Association display.

This year marks the fair's 145th anniversary.

"This is the place where people come back and meet their friends," organizer Nancy Henderson said of the fair, which is "Always on Labor Day."

The fair runs Aug. 29 through Sept. 3 at the grounds on U.S. Route 62 and the 2012 fair book is dedicated to Mrs. Henderson's husband, Jim, director of the fair board for 39 years; he passed away March 28.

"What didn't he do?" Hefferman said while the ladies, including fair treasurer Mary Lewis, discussed his role as they sat in the fair office Friday, Hefferman wrapping up another busy day of taking calls from vendors and helping supervise an estimated 6,000 exhibit and animal entries.

The organizers have been working hard to live up to Henderson, who helped the fair office get on board with a computer system for its files.

That's been a big help because the Pennsylvania State Association of County Fairs requires some online filing in addition to enforcing new and revised rules and regulations for running a fair, Hefferman said.

"There's always something going on behind the scenes," said Director Bob Foust, Mrs. Henderson adding that planning for the next fair starts the day after the last one ends.

It's a fun event for all ages that also serves to promote local agriculture and support area non-profits, which sell food at the fair; the grounds cover about 60 acres,

"We get a lot of repeat vendors," Hefferman said.

This year's fair will have more than 150 vendors that also include local businesses, politicians and products like Avon and Tupperware.

Swank's Steel City Shows of Pittsburgh is running the rides, which are inspected every day, and fair organizers have been told Stoneboro has the "nicest restrooms," Hefferman said.

At the center of it all is the grandstand, and organizers could recall only one time bad weather made a lasting impact on the fair; a tornado in 1954 left the grandstand in poor shape, Mrs. Henderson said.

"They had to go without a roof for years," she said.

The big oak tree between the fair office and fine arts building has lost some branches from various storms, but it's holding up and remains a popular meeting spot at the fair, Hefferman said, adding it's believed to be one of the oldest trees in Mercer County.

The women also discussed this year's commemorative pin, which depicts the fair in 1912, showing a woman in Victorian dress leading "Ora Cecil's Troupe of Forest-Born Leopards."

That was back when local teenagers served as ushers during grandstand shows, women shopped for patterns to make new dresses for the fair and everyone wore hats.

"You got new clothes to go to the fair," Mrs. Henderson said.

A written history of the fair compiled by her late husband and one of their children, Christy Kehlbeck, says it was first organized in 1868 as the Mercer County Agricultural and Manufacturing Society of Stoneboro.

The fairgrounds first sat on a lot between the train tracks and the lake and moved to its current home in 1876 when directors realized an expansion was needed.

Since then, permanent buildings have been added, the midway has been paved, generations of families have left their mark and the Grand Cavalcade Parade on Labor Day morning has continued to be one of the most popular events.

Not a year goes by when organizers don't hear from someone sharing their memories of the fair, which attracts 30,000 to 48,000 people a year, depending on the weather.

Mrs. Henderson recalls a work-related trip her husband took to Brazil, where he met a family from Erie who spoke highly of the fair.

She was surprised but touched to learn he is being honored this year and looks forward to enjoying the fair with her family, along with her favorite fair treat: French fries.

"They seem to taste better," Mrs. Henderson said of fair food.

Bill Alexander of Fairview Township agrees, encouraging fair-goers to stop by the Order of the Eastern Star Chapter 110, Stoneboro, booth where he and his wife Carolyn have been selling milkshakes for quite a few years.

Alexander, 71, the former chief of the Stoneboro Volunteer Fire Department, grew up on the farm where he lives now and has been going to the fair as long as he can remember.

"I've been here ever since I was in diapers," he said of his early fair days.

He used to show cattle and hogs and will be bringing a team of horses this year from his family's farm, which he said is the oldest in Mercer County, dating back to 1794.

Alexander enjoys all parts of the fair these days since he used to have to stay with the animals instead of exploring the midway.

"It has gotten much better organized," he said, adding it remains an event for families to have fun and learn about local farming.

He's also involved with the Mercer County Antique Power Association along with Chester Coulter Jr., 83, of Grove City.

Coulter remembers when going to the fair as a teenager meant showing off your new car and watching the horse races with his father.

"He wouldn't miss those," said Coulter, who estimates he's been going to the fair for 77 years.

While certain parts of the fair have changed with the times, he's glad to see it still teaches visitors about agriculture and the history of the area, and he hopes future generations keep that going.

"It's going to change more," he said.

Fair organizers are still looking for people who have attended The Great Stoneboro Fair for at least 70 years to ride in the Grand Cavalcade Parade on Labor Day. To register, call the fair office at 724-376-2852.

More volunteers to help with the fair are also needed and can contact the fair office. For more information, visit www.stoneborofair.info or find it on Facebook.

Published Aug. 22, 2012, in Allied News. Pick up a copy of 201 A Erie St., Grove City.