Record-breaking crowds found something for everyone –
By Patricia Beech –
“I would absolutely do this again.”
Liz Lafferty says in no uncertain terms that, if asked, she’d happily continue to serve as President of the Adams County Fair Board. “Bringing the fair together is a lot of work, but the rewards far outweigh the pains, says Lafferty.
She and the Senior Fair Board have much to be proud of. Over 15,000 people attended this year’s fair, with record-breaking numbers on opening night, and Saturday’s animal sale bringing in more than $300,000. “It was a great year for the fair,” says Lafferty. “We have incredibly supportive business people in our community who really come through for our kids at fair time.”
A well-spring of boundless energy, Lafferty has brought a spirit of synergy to her fair team. “My philosophy is that everyone needs to work together and pull their own weight,” she says. “Layer upon layer of people contribute to making the fair successful – from our sponsors and the business community to the Sheriff’s office, the county EMS teams, and the fire and police departments – everyone contributes something.”
In recent years many of Ohio’s county fairs have struggled with a lack of funding, aging infrastructure, and falling attendance numbers. Lafferty was determined that Adams County’s fair would not go down that path. “Five years ago our Junior Fair was in good shape, but for people not in 4-H, the fair was really lacking,” she says. “There were no vendors, very few rides, and I decided I wanted to see it return to the way it was when I was a kid.”
As a participating member of Leadership Adams in 2012, she chose the fair as her community project. Working with a team that included Judge Brett Spencer, Chris Harover and Brad Jones, she developed a vision for a successful county fair. “I knew it would take three to five years to build it back up to what it once was,” Lafferty said. “We needed new blood, we needed connections, we needed business people, the good-old- boy philosophy wouldn’t work anymore.”
The 2016 fair was the culmination of four years of work aimed at making her vision a reality. Fair goers were treated to parade and pageantry, music, car, tractor, and motorcycle displays, Motor Cross, Demolition Derbies and tractor pulls, horse shows and animal showmanship, concessions and amusement rides, competitions and contests culminating with the popular Barnyard Olympics, and much more.
“People were happy and excited,” said Lafferty. “Everywhere you looked there was something for everyone.” According to Lafferty, putting the right people in the right job was critical to making the event successful, and she praises those who headed up the different projects and attractions.
“We had good people working to make the fair happen, and we realized everyone is more effective when they’re focused on their own passion, so we tried to steer them in the direction of their interests,” she says. “When there were problems, we challenged them to figure it out and bring it back to the board.”
While Lafferty relied on oversight, rather than micro-managing her fair team during the planning phase, she took a hands-on approach during the fair. Moving into a camper on the fairgrounds on July 9, she stayed the entire week, working every day from 7 a.m. until 1:30 to 2 a.m. in the morning.
“We spent an entire year planning for one week, and, everything went so well. The grounds were beautiful, the events were successful, the concessions were great,” she said,.“The excitement and positive reactions we’ve received really warms my heart.”
Despite the fair’s success, Lafferty isn’t about to rest on her laurels, but plans to continue working to improve the grounds and fair events. “We have more work to do in the Derby area, we need more seating and better parking. Both derbies and the rodeo did very well, we couldn’t have got another person in there. With the funds we raise at the Grandstand Bonanza Dinners and the grant money we’ve received we’ll continue renovating building by building.”
(For more photo coverage from the Defender team of this year’s Adams County Fair, check out pages 15 and 16 of today’s newsstand issue.)