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For the love of the Fair
Darrell Colson is the driving force behind the 2009 Fair
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2009 Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair chairman Darrell Colson troubleshoots in the kitchen while volunteer cooks crank out pancakes Tuesday evening. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    Sunday, when the 48th Annual Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair is over, and carnival workers have finished taking down rides, Statesboro Kiwanis Club members will begin planning next years' fair.
    It's a year-long job, said Darrell Colson, Fair Chairman for the club. He served as club president in 2003, and as fair chairman several years, including the past two.
    Colson joined the Statesboro Kiwanis Club because of the fair, he said. "I love it and what it does for the community." But, "The job is open. Pay is good, hours are great," he joked.
    It's not a paying position, and the hours are outrageous. Colson often finds himself working on fair business at home, after hours on his real job, almost every day, he said. But although it takes a lot of work, it's apparent that Colson enjoys what he does as fair chairman.
    He even takes his vacation every year at fair time so he can devote his full attention to the event, which is the Statesboro Kiwanis Club's only fundraiser. All proceeds from gate admissions are filtered back into the community through donations to various agencies and causes.,
    Tuesday night, Colson was found working on a motorized mule as he stood outside the Kiwanis office, a spot he can be found when he is not in the middle of a problem that needs solving. As fair chairman, Colson is the man to see about  - well, just about everything.
    That night, he had been called to the club's Pancake House, where there was an electrical problem that required parts being ordered. He also made rounds to various attractions and carnival rides to make final arrangements for special needs children and adults who were to visit the fairgrounds Wednesday.
    Suddenly, someone called him on one of two radios clipped to his belt  - and at the same moment, his cell phone rang.
    Whether it be a call about a fight in the parking lot, a gate guard who did not show up, a problem in the exhibit area, or an injury on the midway - Colson gets the call.
    And in between, he checks on all divisions to ensure no one needs anything, He collects advanced ride ticket monies and turns them in to the right person. He makes change for whoever needs it. He meets with the owners of the midway - Amusements of America - to make sure everything is rolling smoothly.  He coordinates the help of local law enforcement. And this is just during fair week.

Year round planning
    Year round, planning for the next fair takes place, Colson said. Calls are made, entertainments contracts are drawn, maintenance is done to the grounds and new ideas or improvements are implemented. The fair chairman even meets with the Vivona family, who owns the midway, in January to discuss the next fair.
    Believe it or not, "There is a lot of work to do Sunday (after the fair) preparing for next year's fair," he said.
    Colson can often be seen sipping from a cup of coffee as he makes his rounds. Rarely idle, he is seen zipping over the fairgrounds in a golf cart or heading with a purposeful stride here and there. Rarely will you see him just sitting. As fair chairman, he's top dog.
    After almost 20 years in the Statesboro Kiwanis Club, it's no wonder Colson has served many times as the fair chairman. He knows the fair inside and out, and considers the Vivonas close friends, if not family. That's the kind of relationship the Statesboro Kiwanis Club has with the Amusements of America family.
    "I got into the Kiwanis Club because of the fair," he said. "I just enjoy it, seeing people have fun, and I take pride in our keeping it a family event."
    Colson was the driving force behind the creation of the "Kiddie Land" section - where families with smaller children can take them for rides and games geared towards younger ages, and avoid the boisterous antics of older teens and adults in the rest of the midway.
    "There, it's a different environment and they can feel safe," he said.
    While it can get loud and wild on the midway, with teens screaming in delighted fear and ride operators blaring loud music, there are rarely any disturbances, he said. That's because Statesboro Kiwanis Club members (the ones in yellow jackets) and Bulloch County Sheriff's deputies patrol the grounds constantly, and nip any problems in the bud. They will evict anyone causing trouble or obviously under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Colson said.

Memories from fairs past
    But even with such safety measures, things do happen on occasion. A couple of years ago, Colson was listening to his scanner and heard an officer report seeing a man riding a golf cart in Statesboro. Upon checking, Colson learned the Kiwanis Club was missing a golf cart from the fair. "The man said he just needed a ride into town," he said with a laugh.
    Then there was the time a visitor lost his wallet while on a ride - and it fell on top of a tent. Instead of seeking help, the young man tried to club on top of the vendor's tent himself - and ended up falling, breaking an ankle.
    The club means business when it comes to keeping the fair clean and family-oriented. A clown named Homey was evicted several years ago due to inappropriate language.
    The King caused problems, too. When Elvis impersonator Tommy Lee Gurley swiveled his hips, the workers in the club's Pancake House abandoned spatulas and took off to watch. Colson chuckled when he recalled the incident.
    Last year, Colson had to deal with a power outage. The midway still operated, since they had generators, but the first night of the fair was rather dark elsewhere, until Georgia Power could rectify the problem.
    Then there was a problem with an out of town gang about four years ago. Bulloch County Sheriff Lynn Anderson closed the fairgrounds early in order to get things under control. " Safety is number one with us," Colson said.
    He is hesitant to take credit for the work he does. "I do the leg work, but the fair committee really does a lot," he said. But the fair chairman keeps up with bills, insurance, upkeep, and all the minute details that come along with the fair. It's a year-round duty, but when fair week arrives, it's a 24/7 business.
    "I get 90-100 calls a day on my cell phone during fair week," he said.
    Former fair chairman Walter Pease agreed that the job is tremendous. He laughed along with Colson as they reminisced about good times over the past several years - including a time when Pease agreed to bring his neighbor's cow home. It would have been fine expect he loaded up the wrong cow.
    " I left a note for the owner that said 'I have your cow and its OK,'" he said.
The two also recalled a very wet year when cars bogged down in the parking lot and tractors were used to remove rides from the fairgrounds.
    Pease had high compliments for Colson and the job he does. "He's probably been one of the foremost fair chairmen we've ever had," he said. "It's a hard job that takes many hours, but he enjoys it and sinks his teeth into it. He's top notch."
     Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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