Editor’s note: For more fair stories, schedule of events, awards photography info and more, see the 180th Greene County Fair special section inside today’s paper.
XENIA — Greene County Fair’s long-time secretary says although she’s retiring, she’ll always have fair in her blood.
Esther Pierson was canning green beans one summer when she got a call from her daughter who was working at the fair.
“She said, ‘What are you doing? We need help at the fair. We need somebody to write tickets’,” Pierson recalled.
That was 1992. She soon landed the job that she’s been doing for the last 27 years — although much has changed since then.
“When I began, we did everything by hand — posted everything by hand, wrote out checks by hand. We didn’t even have a computer so when our treasurer joined the group, he was instrumental in putting us all on the computer,” she said. “I didn’t even own a computer; I had to learn.”
The secretary’s duties in the Fair Office changed to handling fair sponsorships and vendor contracts and sales, working with the fair board and FFA kids, giving 4-Hers their ID tags and fair coins — and whatever else it took to keep the fair running.
But Pierson’s time at the Greene County Fair began before her job, and even before her two daughters joined 4-H.
She entered 4-H as a child.
“I loved these fairgrounds, absolutely loved it. I’ve been here since I was 9,” Pierson, who graduated from Yellow Springs High School, said. “I grew up here. I had steers, sheep, and I did flowers and sewing.”
As 4-H, the fair, and secretarial responsibilities changed over the years, the fairgrounds did, too.
“My mom used to drop me off at the back gate. The only good restrooms were back by the horse barns,” Pierson recalled.
The 2000 tornado drastically changed the old fairgrounds she remembers, destroying 17 buildings in its path.
“We were dealing with old wood buildings when the tornado came through … and took everything,” she continued. “We had to start from scratch. Rebuilding was quite a change right before my eyes. Everything was so different and the adjustment was really hard. I remember sleeping in the cattle barns in the old fairgrounds and it was an open barn, so the transition from the physical portion of the fairgrounds was big.”
Dan Bullen, fair board president, remembers Pierson’s leadership in the aftermath.
“She was very instrumental in keeping the board together and focused on getting that project done so we could have a new fair in 2001,” Bullen said. “It’s been an honor to work with her. She has taken our fair from what it was 25 years ago to what it is today.”
Pierson said good came out of that disaster nearly two decades ago.
“It’s so much nicer now — with all the pretty things that have happened here,” Pierson said. “The rotunda in the middle of the plaza is able to display all the flags — that makes me happy.”
But what makes her happiest is the people.
“I’m going to miss everybody that has been a part of my life for all of these years. I’ve gotten to feel like they’re my family when they come in,” she said. “The friendships I made here are very important to me.”
The secretary has seen the fair live on through generations of 4-Hers.
“I’ve been able to see people that I was in 4-H with get married, have children, now I’m dealing with those children and grandchildren who have 4-H projects,” Pierson said. “I love the 4-H kids and FFA kids — they make the fair. I’ll miss them probably more than anything.”
It’s the simple fair things that make her happy, too — like placing people with reserved parking and camping.
“That’s one of my favorite things,” Pierson said. “It makes them happy to be able to be near their animals when they’re not at home. And I think that people make more memories at the fair when they’re here camping together. It makes me happy that they’re happy.”
Her work hasn’t gone without challenges, though, including caring for sick parents, dealing with her own health issues and losing her husband.
But over the years, her dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Keith Sheridan, who knew Pierson from school and served on the fair board with her, called her a staunch supporter of the fair.
“She loved the fair,” Sheridan said. “I don’t know of anybody that could’ve done a better job than Esther. She lived the fair, really. It was fun to work with her.”
Sheridan recalled his time on the board, a series of late nights.
“She put her efforts 100 percent behind the fair and, gee, I remember going to the meetings and she’d be at the fair office all day and then stay over and go to the fair board meeting that evening,” he said. “Sometimes they’d go to 11, 12 o’clock but she was always there and I, for one, and all the fair board members really appreciated her and what she did for the fair.”
While Pierson’s tenure is almost over — her time at the fair is not.
“I want to come back and see all the people I’ll miss seeing in the office. I have a lot of memories on this fairgrounds,” she said. “Even if the tornado took the actual buildings, the memories that are here — you can still see in your mind and your heart.”