New Castle News

August 9, 2013

Photo Gallery, Story: Six-decade tradition

For 60 years now, family fun has been the main attraction at the Lawrence County Fair

Tory Irwin
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — A lot has changed over the past 60 years.

Gas isn’t 20 cents a gallon anymore. We’ve gone through a handful of presidents. And the popular music sure is different.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is the tradition of family at the Lawrence County Fair.

Former fair director Don Wilson, who joined the Lawrence County Fair in its second year, said it’s all about the kids.

“I figured if we saved three kids a year from drugs coming out here and doing farm work, it was well worth everything I did. That’s the way I feel about it,” he said.

That tradition began in 1953 when it was proposed that a permanent farm show be established in Lawrence County. The first Farm Show was held at the J.R. Rick Stock Farm as a two-day event in August 1954, showcasing 64 exhibitors.

The Farm Show continued on the Rick Farm as a two- and eventually four-day event before the fair board decided it needed a permanent home for the show, and the Rick Farm was not for sale.

In 1966, the board discovered a 96-acre tract of land across from Laurel High School was available. For $25,000, the fair board was able to make the Enos Farm the permanent home for the Lawrence County Fairgrounds.

Through the decades, the fair has seen years of both growth and decline, but overall, directors say, it has become one of the most successful fairs in the United States.

John Kusnierczyk, who joined the fair board in 1964 and remains a member today, said the fair is known all over the country for its dairy and livestock shows.

One of the factors that keeps the fair so successful is competition, according to Kusnierczyk. “It’s the competitive factor. If money was of no concern, we’d have one heck of a fair,” he said.

“But you know, we’re limited on what we can do. But we’re well known; our livestock shows are tremendous. We had two young men had a heifer calf, they brought it to the fair, got first place. Went to the Harrisburg show, got first place. Went to the Columbus State Fair, got first place.

“Then they sold it to a guy for $10,000. The guy took it to Arizona, and nationally, he got first place. Sold it for $50,000.”

Hugh Forbes, who served on the fair board of directors for 30 years, shared another secret of success: the concessionaires. 

“I really, down through the years, had trouble with getting recognition (for) the concessionaires; they pay for a lot of the bill here. The other classes that come in here, they’re here to show, and that’s something that shouldn’t be forgotten in the years to come, either,” he said.

Kursnierczyk added if it weren’t for the concessionaires and rides, there wouldn’t be a fair.

The directors have become adept at providing something for everyone.

“In general, all aspects of the show, it’s such a variety of entertainment,” Kusniercyzk said. “Some people want to come out to see the craft, other people want to come out and see the 4H horses. Others want to see the dairy, and the sheep, and the goats.” .

“And a lot of people come to get an apple dumpling,” Forbes added.

So what makes for the best fair week? Simply put, it’s Mother Nature’s decision.

“I’ll tell you what makes a good fair, is good weather,” Wilson said. “We can all remember a few years back here, we had a bunch of rain and pulled cars out of the field.”

The weather has created some memorable weeks, including a year where storms ravaged the fair grounds and cars were stuck in the mud, still being towed at 4 a.m.

Still, the former fair directors can’t pin point a favorite year out of their time on the board.

“They’ve all been good; just some better than others,” said Kusniercyzk. “I think, all of the fair directors, their heart was in the fair to produce something for the community, especially for the kids.”

The three men can look back on past shows with pride.

“Whether it’s here or any business, you got your good and your bad. And the good usually outdoes the bad,” Kusniercyzk said.

“(We’ve had) a lot of experience, and a lot of fun and a lot of down time and a lot of headaches,” Wilson added. “It’s a long ways from where we started, I’ll tell you that. I think it’s been doing real well.”