When people think of the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair, usually it's the rides, the food, and the exhibits that come to mind.
Visitors to the annual fair often enjoy the sights and entertainment without a thought as to the year-round work and effort it takes to host the event.
The fair serves seven counties when it comes to offering participation in competitions, contests and exhibits, but anyone is welcome to attend. Residents of Bulloch, Bryan, Candler, Evans, Jenkins, Screven and Tattnall counties are eligible to enter livestock shows, 4-H and FFA exhibits, and other contests such as floral and arts shows, best baked goods, best preserves and best stalk of corn.
Most people don't know it takes a year to prepare for the next fair, said veteran fair chairman Walter Pease. He has worn the hat of fair chairman on several occasions and shared the honor this year with another veteran fair chairman, Darrell Colson.
"The main job for the fair chairman is putting out fires," Pease said Tuesday as he worked at the fairgrounds. "Committees handle most things."
The list of duties is vast. As chairman, Pease and Colson oversee the entire event, handling issues committee chairs cannot. However, the bulk of the work is done by vice chairs over rides, tickets and sales; of vendors and booths; over the Heritage Village; exhibits and shows; and of security and parking.
The fair committee — a team of 10 with two additional ex officio members — "meets monthly to discuss problems and ideas," Pease said. "We have to find people who can jump in and go forth. This is a club effort, not just a one-person show."
Charles Sheets has the job of getting the fair kick-started with the annual parade. There were more than 2,800 people and 152 entries in this year's parade, he said.
Parade volunteers — which included Kiwanis members and members of the Statesboro Citizens Police Academy this year — help participants line up in the order they will appear along the parade route. Floats, cars, bands and horseback riders line up several side streets along East Olliff Street in preparation for the parade through downtown Statesboro, and without volunteers, the effort can become quite confusing, he said.
Another place of confusion would be the parking lot at the fairgrounds, if not for volunteers. Bobby Williams, along a few other club members and several folks from other clubs and organizations, direct visitors to spaces in the parking lot that are available as other people leave. The job is dry and dusty and sometimes dangerous when drivers disobey directions, but the parking and security crew keep things going.
Bob Lanier is head of security, making sure gates and buildings are locked and that safety measures are maintained. He also shuttles disabled and elderly visitors from the oaring lots to the fair, as well as runs errands in between stations to ensure volunteers have water and anything else they need.
Pease said the fair could not operate without club members and others stepping up to help. His wife, Debra, was busy Tuesday afternoon weighing in hogs for the night's livestock show — a duty she performs nightly along with handling farm products in the Heritage Village, a section of the grounds where visitors can see a working blacksmith, a beekeeper, an old country store and more.
Although the week of the fair brings the brunt of the work, Pease and others work year-round to prepare for the fall event.
"A fair chairman keeps things going," he said.
As the fair's representative, he attends the annual Georgia Association of Agricultural Fairs convention where trade show offers ideas regarding entertainment, rides and more.
"We get lots of ideas from that," Pease said. "We go see and find out what's out there" that can be brought to the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair.
That convention is where the Statesboro Kiwanis Club met the people with Amusements of America, which has provided the midway for the fair for well over 20 years he said.
"We have a very good partnership with them," Pease said. "It works out very well."
Gene Murkison, vice chairman of vendors and booths, praised Kiwanis Club members Mike Bowen (advertising), Lanier, Billy Lott (food services), Ted Williams (Heritage Village) and others for their tireless efforts.
The "fair book" takes a great deal of work in editing, selling ads and distributing 10,000 copies to seven counties. But even with that information, as well as advertising, people still call the fairgrounds all day long, every day the fair is open, asking questions, Murkison said.
Volunteers man the office from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m., when "regular" Kiwanis members come in and take over, he said. Club members handle questions, prize money and more each day.
Club members send letters every January to businesses and individuals who had booths and exhibits the year before, offering the first chance at a spot the next year. He also organizes displays of tractors, cars and recreational vehicles that grace the fairgrounds echo year.
Then there are club members who dedicate time to selling tickets, working pass gates, accounting for money collected, and photography for the club. There are club members and committees responsible for the Pancake House, BBQ Hut, Country Store and other areas for the club. Members oversee the cane grinding and syrup making, the grist mill, farm equipment display and bee exhibit. Upkeep on the grounds also takes a year-round effort, he said.
While the main reason for the fair is to raise funds to donate to area charities and programs, it is also meant to provide safe family fun for local residents, Pease said.
That's where even more volunteers come in. The Bulloch County Sheriff's Office provides security each night at the fair to ensure safety as well as assist with directing traffic.
The Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair opens today at 4 p.m., with free admission for students. University and college students must show identification.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.