Plans for one of the area’s largest events of the year came to a halt last week when the Statesboro Kiwanis Club called off its annual multi-county agricultural fair due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Statesboro Kiwanis President-elect Ashlee Hooks Corbin announced the decision in a statement released Tuesday.
“Effective immediately, planning and preparation for the 59th Annual Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair has ceased,” the statement read, noting that the club’s fair committee unanimously voted Wednesday, Aug. 12, to cancel the 2020 fair, which had been scheduled to take place Oct. 19–24. The board of directors confirmed the committee’s decision Tuesday.
To hold the six-day-long event that draws tens of thousands each night and still be safe regarding COVID-19 precautions would be costly, if not nearly impossible, she said. Mandates for vendors serving food would be cost prohibitive, and managing social distancing would be a monumental task.
“The lines would be so long” if rides were to be disinfected after each round, said Walter Pease, who has served as fair chairman several times over the past two decades. The extra cost of cleaning the fairgrounds each night, not to mention the number of club members and volunteers needed, would be a major challenge as well, Corbin said.
The decision was not easy, and this is the first time in history the fair has been canceled.
“We have had to close a day or two a few times due to weather, but never closed the whole week,” Pease said.
The annual fair is such an undertaking that plans for the next year’s fair begin the day the current year’s fair ends. The project requires year-long planning and work that involves a number of club members.
“The fair committee worked tirelessly this year to make this one of the best fairs to date,” said fair chairman Danny Beall.
However, with the onset of COVID-19, the concern for the health and safety of the public and Kiwanians made cancelling the event the only feasible decision at this time, he said.
“It is our hope that everyone stays safe and healthy. Together we will beat this. We look forward to seeing you next year.”
Amusements of America
This year has been especially difficult for the company that has provided the midway for the fair for more than 20 years. Not only are fairs all over the country canceling events, but Amusements of America patriarch Dominic Vivona passed away in July due to the coronavirus.
The Statesboro Kiwanis Club was “the last one to cancel,” said Robbie Vivona, Dominic’s nephew who, along with other family members, helps run the business.
Amusements of America employees are making ends meet by “doing mobile food courts with food trucks” and operating a disinfecting crew, using equipment “we already had to use on the rides,” he said.
Although the Statesboro Kiwanis held out as long as they could before making the decision, the local fair ended up like other similar events across the country.
“Hosting a fair that would meet CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and state regulations would not have produced an event that would live up to the high standards that Kiwanians set for the success, safety and fun for each year’s Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair,” Corbin said.
Current Kiwanis President Chris Caplinger agreed.
“Given the level of community spread of the coronavirus and the recommendations of public health and governmental officials, we felt we could not responsibly operate the fair this year. I want to thank our fair committee, and especially fair chair Danny Beall, for the many hours of planning and analysis that went into this decision.”
The club realizes the cancelation means disappointment for children, adults and vendors who rely on the fair as a fundraiser.
“We appreciate the community's support of the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair, and we look forward to coming back bigger and better than ever in 2021,” Caplinger said.
While there will be no fair this year, club members are busy looking at alternatives “to allow the community to support Kiwanis and allow the club to support the community in the same capacity it has in previous years,” Corbin said. “Being from Statesboro and having attended many fairs, this decision was heartbreaking to be a part of. As incoming president, it is my hope that our loyal fair-goers will choose to support us through other avenues that we are looking into.”
Plans have not yet been finalized for other possible ventures. For the most up-to-date information, follow the Kiwanis Club of Statesboro on Facebook.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.