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Ohio's Putnam County Fair: Mission accomplished

7/3/2013

By Linda Van Slyke

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According to Don Verhoff, President of the Putnam County (Ohio) Fair, the fair's mission has been threefold:  "to honor our rich agricultural heritage, to promote our diverse community, and to showcase our youth."

Agriculture begins from the ground up, and the energy of this year's 158th fair (going strong since 1855) has been literally rooted in the fairgrounds.  Just about one year ago, a violent storm swept through these grounds, damaging pretty much everything in its path.  Amazingly, thisyear's fair was able to open on schedule with an infrastructure that is better than ever.

Verhoff explained that "virtually every building needed repair or replacement.  Heavy-duty cleanups of trees and debris were just the beginning.  Fences were down, roofs were hanging loose - there was a lot to be done within a relatively short time.

Not only that, everything had to be done in strict accordance with rules and regulations.  As Verhoff stated, "All kinds of things had to be sorted through, and all kinds of decisions had to be made.  There were so many considerations that had to be dealt with to make sure that it was all done properly."
 
Maintaining a sense of urgency without it escalating into a sense of emergency was the rule of thumb.  Putting first things first and not retracing steps really helped.  Nevertheless, Verhoff reported that this enormous undertaking "took a good 11 months, and we were still putting the finishing touches on it a week before the fair."

All this could not have been accomplished without vital assistance from the Putnam County Grounds Improvement Foundation (PCGIF).  This nonprofit "partner in progress" helped tremendously with the "restorations and facelifts of the fairgrounds."  This included raising thousands of dollars for such projects as the painting of buildings, the renovation of restrooms, the improvement of barns, and the replication of themajestic 19th-century stone arches that formed the original gateway.

Fairgoers who enter these arches today continue to be treated to an abundance of agricultural experiences.  A unique version of such came from the Jungle Island Petting Zoo.  Kids not only had the opportunity to get acquainted with farm-type animals such as small potbellied pigs, but also got to be up close and personal with more exotic ones such as reindeer and kangaroos.

 This year's Dairy Delights Challenge also highlighted the importance of agricultural ventures.

Verhoff said that insiders called it "the cooking challenge" due to the culinary creations that resulted from the locally-obtained milk of bovine kindness.  The 2013 special theme was cream-cheese desserts.

The diversity of Putnam County has vastly grown since 1855.  This is now reflected in such events as the Veterans' Tribute and High School Band Show.  This juxtaposition of populations was purposefully arranged so that high school students could more directly learn about "the sacrifices and heritage they havereceived as citizens of this country." 

The Putnam County Fair has also showcased youth in numerousother ways.  Verhoff stressed that "education through entertainment" is a key theme.  One such highlight was the 2013 Early Childhood STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Activities that were hosted by the Putnam County Educational Service Center (PCESC).  Verhoff reported, "That was a big hit - lots of kids went through that procedure, and it was very well received from the youngsters themselves."

The Caboodlestoppers were also especially appealing to kids. Back by popular demand from the previous year, they offered a potpourri of good clean family fun for all ages.  Their website describes their "stilt-walking, balloon-a-tics, slapstick musical acts and skits" as "upbeat, uplifting and uproariously funny."  Verhoff jokingly added "goofy, wacky, and off-the-wall..."

Another way that education and entertainment blend is via the food arena.  Verhoff pointed out that "a few schools have their own complete lunch service available in tents" at the fair.  For example, the Band Boosters Club offered short-order, cafeteria-style fair food as a fund-raiser.

 By no means was this the only food at this year's Putnam County Fair.  There were altogether about 45 food vendors selling everything from corn dogs to "the best French fries in the world."  Fairgoers who yearned to be transported out of this world also chose the Cosmic Ice (which Verhoff said is "a bit like Italian Ice - and it really crunches and lasts a long, long time").

The midway was also aglow with 25 of Durant Amusements' rides.  According to the website, Durant Enterprises, Inc. is a business that has been "family owned and operated for over 50 years."  It is also proudly Ohio-based.  Verhoffexplained that the family name "Prowant" was combined with the name of their tiny home town "Dupont" in order to create the name "Durant."

He added that Durant Amusements is a "very clean and well-run company" that the fair has been working with for "at least 15 years."

 Verhoff said that attendance at this year's fair "was fairly steady" as compared to that of  previous years (with about 25,000 overall in 2013).  Gate admission was $6, raised by a dollar since last year.  This extra cost did not seem to deter attendance at all, and it certainly "helped out the bottom line a bit." 

Special promotions included Car Night (offering a $20 package deal no matter how many were huddled within the automobile)and Midway Mania (offering a $7 wristband covering a 9 PM to midnight stretch).  In keeping with the commitment to youth,there was also a special day during which kids were admitted for free.

This year's total fair budget was $475,000 - $18,500 of which was spent on advertising.  Of the advertising budget, 60% was spent on a combination of radio and TV spots.  The other 40% went to print media and direct distribution.  The latter consisted of five-fold brochures being handed out through the Education Center, as well as through "a major convenience store company" and other businesses throughout the county.

 Even after rebuilding the fair from the ground up, the Putnam County team has commendably accomplished its mission.   

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