Behind the flashing lights, colorful displays, cacophony of sounds and alluring scents of the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair, you will find two very different groups of people who enjoy a unique partnership.
For over 30 years, the New Jersey-based Amusements of America has partnered with the Statesboro Kiwanis Club to bring an ever-growing midway to Statesboro. Over the years, the Vivona family, who owns Amusement of America, has grown quite close to the Statesboro Kiwanis family and has developed a relationship unlike any other between the carnival group and other cities they visit.
Dominic Vivona Sr., head of the family, became friends with long-time Kiwanis members Walter and Debra Pease over three decades ago, said Dominic Viviona Jr. as he spoke to the Statesboro Herald Wednesday while he and his father were en route to the Statesboro fair from another state.
“It’s coincidental that Walter Pease’s family originated in New Jersey,” he said. “Just down from the AA headquarters is Pease Road, named for his family.”
The friendship between the Pease and Vivona families soon spread to carnival employees and Kiwanis members. As the annual fair grew in size, so did the friendship and partnership that makes the carnival group look forward to the week in Statesboro every year, he said.
The carnival employees camp on site, behind the rides and the game booths, and during the day before the fairgrounds open, they interact with Kiwanis members. More than a business partnership, the two groups often treat each other like they are at an annual family reunion. Once, over 10 years ago, an AA employee from Bulloch County, Ronnie Douberly, even married wife Xochith in a wedding ceremony performed on the Statesboro fairgrounds.
Shared meals, health assessments
Statesboro Kiwanis reaches out to the AA workers throughout the week, said club member Lisa Turner.
Partnering with the club, “First Baptist Church of Statesboro gave them a steak dinner and health assessments,” she said Wednesday.
Other outreach efforts, including church services, result in teamwork between the two entities, and they each work to welcome special needs residents from seven counties on Wednesday mornings every year. These visitors of all ages enjoyed rides and a lunch provided by Chick-fil-A, she said.
Kiwanis members have always been welcomed to the carnival camps, and the AA midway provides the club with its meal at their Thursday meeting during fair week, she said. Usual fare is “fair food” — Italian sausages, New York-style pizza, fried chicken and more. The lunch is held at the Kiwanis Pancake House, and news between the two groups is often shared during the meeting.
On each side, there is a show of respect and appreciation.
“We appreciate all the hard work they do,” said 2019 Kiwanis Fair Chairman Jamie Copeland. “They provide a very family-oriented, safe fair.”
And Amusements of America appreciates the way they are treated by the club, Vivona said.
“It is the hospitality,” he said. “They are unbelievably good folks. All the programs they set up for our employees, the food — we really enjoy coming to Statesboro.”
In most cities and states, the connection between the hosting party and the AA carnival is simply a “hands-off business agreement,” he said. But Statesboro stands out from the crowd of cities to which the carnival travels on its circuit, he said.
“In Statesboro, it is much more than that.”
The 58th annual Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair, an agricultural fair with farming-related historical displays, local food vendors, educational exhibits and competitions, also offers livestock shows, commercial booths and a large midway with several major thrill rides and a kiddie ride section.
Admission is $5, with children under admitted 5 free, and wrist stamps provide unlimited rides for $20 each night ($25 on Saturday.)
Nightly entertainment including musical performances and side shows are free with admission. Copeland reminds visitors that there is no smoking or vaping allowed on the grounds.
The fair continues through Saturday at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fairgrounds on Highway 67 South.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.