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Origins of the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair
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The original bank note signed by members of the Kiwanis Club in 1961 for the fair grounds. - photo by Special

            It began with a Statesboro mayor telling a traveling carnival "no."

            The mayor wouldn't allow a fair inside the city, but Bulloch County leaders allowed a new civic club of 28 members to host a small fair just outside of town – 50 yards outside the limits, to be exact. And that was the beginning of a huge, seven-county agricultural fair that is known today as the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair.

            The 47th Annual Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair is scheduled for  Oct. 13-18 at the Kiwanis Fairgrounds on Ga. 67 (also known as Fair Road). But in the beginning, the fair was held at Parker's Stockyard on Stockyard Road, said charter Statesboro Kiwanis member Tal Callaway.

            He and another charter member, Wyatt Johnson, spoke Monday to the Bulloch County Historical Society about the fair's intriguing history.

            Today, "The Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair is a big operation," Callaway said. "It brings in several hundreds of thousands of dollars every year."

             That money goes directly back into the community through donations, sponsorships, scholarships and more, he said.

            There are only four charter Statesboro Kiwanis Club members alive today, he said. Aside from Johnson and Callaway, the others are Judge Avant Edenfield and Belton Braswell.

            Johnson is the only one who has maintained a membership in the club, and remains an active member today.

            Callaway told the group how "B's Old Reliable Carnival" entered Statesboro in 1962 asking for Jaycees Club members to sponsor the carnival, but Callaway, a member of both clubs, suggested the carnival solicit help from the Kiwanians.

            The carnival's gig had been canceled in Evans County and  they were looking for a replacement. They offered to give the club a nickel for every 15 cent ride they sold, but the club countered with this: let local businesses give away tickets and charge only 10 cents a ride, with the businesses taking nothing but "advertising" in the form of  ticket giveaways.

            Soon rides were set up in spots throughout the city, here and  there wherever space allowed.

            Statesboro's own Emma Kelly even jumped on  the bandwagon. Not a Kiwanis member but a close affiliate of the club, she was game.

            Callaway told how she rode a machine called the Cyclops, and how it unraveled her.

            "She didn't have a pin in her hair, and her hair was way down her back when she got off," he said. Kelly was known for her elaborately coiffed jet black mane.

            There were rides in Simmons Shopping Center, where Proctor Street was blocked off; and there were rides along South Main Street where the old Piggly Wiggly stood. Bulloch County and Statesboro citizens enjoyed the impromptu fair.

            But the next year, some city officials complained and denied permission to hold  the fair inside the city limits.

            Some traveling fairs did have "nebulous reputations," Callaway said, but still, "I think we owe it to the community who could not travel to larger fairs across the state" to host a local alternative, he said.

            Also, kids didn't have a local venue for showing off livestock they raised, and they needed that opportunity, he said.

            The city leaders shot it down, but county leaders did not, he said. Bulloch County Commissioners gave permission for the Statesboro Kiwanis club to host a fair, and they did so - at S. E. Parker's Stockyard.

            There was an office, restrooms, stalls - "We're in great shape," Callaway said as he spun the historical tale. "Now, Kiwanis is ready to go."

            The first " real" fair was held Oct. 14, 1963.

           

Hurricane in a peanut field

            Callaway  took a break from his historical account, allowing Johnson to continue the story.

            Telling the group how the Statesboro Kiwanis Club was started in 1960, sponsored by the Brooklet Kiwanis Club, with just 28 members, he said "One of the objectives ( of the club) is community service."

            Sometime before the first official fair in 1963, a Georgia Southern College professor asked the club to come up with $3,000 in matching funds so he could accept a $30,000 grant to help with student projects.

            The Statesboro Kiwanis Club agreed, and each member signed a note that held them collectively as well as individually responsible for its repayment.

            Emma Kelly, although not an official member, also signed the note, Johnson said.

            "That was a lot of money back then," he said. "Gas was 29.9 (cents) a gallon at the pumps and a postage stamp was three cents.

            So, owing that sum, the club held a fair. And the proceeds from the fair enabled the group to repay the bank note, celebrated with a " note-burning" ceremony on South Main Street in the Bryant's Kitchen parking lot (across from Gnat's Landing today.)

            The next fair was bigger and held in a peanut field at the corner of West Main Street and Stockyard Road, he said. A hurricane swept through and knocked one of two tents onto the livestock, but a few days later everything cleared up and the fair went on.

            Still, the club know it was time to find a permanent location for the fair, as they knew it was something they wanted to continue. A 28-acre peanut field along Ga. 67 was ideal, but "We were facing a big debt," Johnson said. "And the biggest objection was that it was too far from town."

            Today, each night the fair is open, traffic lines up for miles, stretching all the way into well inside the city limits, as people from throughout the region wait to get into the parking lot.

            Over the years more land was purchased and rented to accommodate the masses of cars bringing people to the fair.

            Johnson said the club members constructed the buildings inside the fairgrounds and have maintained and built upon the structures, adding a community building in 1990, and making improvements every year. "Tal and I have spent many an hour on top of those buildings putting screws in," he told the historical society members.

            The Pancake House, which is a major draw for patrons wanting fresh sausage and fluffy pancakes with homemade cane syrup (maple is also available), was built in 1969, a special project of late club member Marion Brantley.

            By 1965, the club's gate collections for the fair were $7,600, he said. Last year's collections at the gate were around $171,000.

            Nobody's getting rich, unless it's the community, Johnson said. "The Kiwanis club's national bylaw is any money raised by public participation has to go back into the public."

            Donations to local law enforcement agencies for programs about drug education or free fingerprint programs; boys and girls clubs, boys' homes, American Red Cross, local schools, scholarships and more only begin to touch the number of organizations and projects receiving support from the Statesboro Kiwanis Club through money raised by people having fun, he said.

            And it's going to happen again in just a few weeks.