There are a number of folks who look forward with great anticipation to the Greene County Fair each year; and each year they are treated to new sights and sounds along with the familiar cotton candy, lemonade, rides and taffy.
Some folks may remember when Joe Sutton was honored for his long years of continuous attendance at the Fair.
Joe was just a “babe in arms” the first time he attended the Greene County Fair. As he grew older, he loved the fair so that he never missed a year for the next 102 years! That is correct. Joe was born May 15, 1876 in Greene County, the son of a farmer, horse breeder and trainer.
His family loved the fair, and of course Joe grew to love it as well. On the occasion of his 103rd visit to the fair he was honored by the Fair Board for his many years of never missing a year of attendance. Joe Sutton day was declared in a special ceremony to honor him. He was probably the oldest living resident of the county at the time, and certainly the only one who could claim such an astonishing record of attendance.
He was delighted with the honor, and when invited to speak he told about the first time he planted and harvested a crop. He was seventeen at the time, planted and harvested a field of corn and for his efforts received seventeen cents a bushel. He told another story of when he was twenty-three and attended, with his grandmother, a celebration of Independence Day which was held in Yellow Springs.
His father was a horse trainer, so Joe had a horse with him for the event, but no cart to race. He borrowed a cart from someone and he was proud to say that he won the race that day. No doubt there are many who have attended the majority of their lives, but Joe seems to be the record holder to date.
Members of the Greene County Fair Board are dedicated individuals. They may serve an indefinite number of years depending on their particular interests or skills, and each has a particular job to do. Some oversee the various categories of animals; others are in charge of the concessions, rides, special entertainment; premiums, art hall and so forth.
As soon as the fair ends, plans are made for the coming year. The fair board is responsible for the maintenance of the fairgrounds year around.
One of the busier buildings on the grounds has been the Art Hall. During the “off season” the building is used as a furniture store, but just a few weeks before the fair, all the merchandise is moved into storage and the showcases and other necessary display items are brought into the building.
For many years, Lucille Stroup was the board member in charge of the Art Hall. She joined the Fair Board in 1960 replacing Harold Van Pelt. Lucille taught elementary school at Spring Valley for 23 years before retiring. She took on the responsibility of the Art Hall with the same enthusiasm she used for every other project. (I first knew her as a Camp Fire Girls leader who while in her 70’s could outlast all the girls doing the hokey-pokey.) For her 90th birthday, she was taken on a motorcycle ride much to her delight.
Mrs. Stroup’s responsibilities in the Art Hall included accepting all the items which were to be displayed, taking proper care of each exhibit and seeing that at the end of the Fair all items were properly returned to the owners. After a mix-up in returning displays to owners one year, she implemented a new policy with a tag, one half was attached to the item, and the other was given as a receipt to the exhibitor when claiming the items.
Each year new categories were added while others were dropped. As soon as the Fair ended, she and her helpers would decide which items needed more display room, and which categories had too few entries. She selected impartial judges for each of the categories including sewing, baking, antiques, woodworking, pillows, art in all forms and more. Quilts were hung in a way that visitors could see the fine needlework.
Mrs. Stroup stated that it was not unusual during her tenure to have as many as 1,600 individual items on display. This amount increased greatly when the Greene County Garden Clubs added their displays. Ladies and gentlemen from all over the county brought in their beautiful flowers. Some would appear in vases for judging the most perfect rose or other flower, depending on the category. There were also displays of flower arranging to delight the eye,
She made the comment that “I can’t sew worth a hoot, but I always did handy work”. Of course, her handy work was never displayed.
She allowed some commercial vendors to have space in the building as displays permitted, but they had to agree to be present at the display from the opening in the morning to the closing at night. She also allowed Girl Scouts and Camp Fire Girls to have special displays of the handy work of the girls. Sometimes the organizations provided ribbons for the girls who exhibited in these booths. For many years, the Greene County Historical Society was one of the organizations allotted space in the building at no charge.
Mrs. Stroup also served as the supervisor for the Junior Division (ages 8-12) and the Teen Division (ages 13-17).
The Art Hall ran smoothly for more than twenty-five years under her direction. She boasted that she had been able to keep many of the same assistants year after year. Some of her helpers were otherwise employed, but it was understood that during Fair Week, they would be helping in the Art Hall.
The tradition continues under new direction, so be sure to stop by the Art Hall when you visit the Fair.
Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.