Going to the Fair

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St. Mary's County Fair to Run Sept. 18 to 20

LEONARDTOWN - 9/16/2008

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By Linda Shepherd

There is a certain anticipation of the crisp fall season and the St. Mary’s County Fair. Preparing for the Fair is exciting to the many exhibitors, who enter the fruits of their labor and eagerly hope to see a champion ribbon placed on their gigantic pumpkin, knitted afghan, hybrid tea rose or on one of those adorable little bunnies that you just have to take home!

September 2008 commemorates the 62nd Annual St. Mary’s County Fair in Leonardtown, a long-standing tradition of the St. Mary’s County Fair Association. The SMC Fair Association is an independent volunteer, nonprofit organization that strives to showcase and preserve the rural heritage of St. Mary’s County. Believed to be Maryland’s largest county fair and fairgrounds operated solely by volunteers, the Association annually recruits hundreds of friends, family members, and community organizations to ensure its successful production. These dedicated volunteers donate thousands of hours and dollars each year to continue the Association’s mission of improving agriculture, increasing public awareness of our agricultural community, and educating the general public on agricultural and home arts skills.

Fair Weekend, this year Thursday, Sept. 18, to Saturday, Sept. 20, is a busy one indeed! In these gasoline-conserving times, just think of the many perks you and your family can enjoy locally at the SMC Fair! A nominal admission permits you to see all the exhibits and enjoy a myriad of entertainment at no additional cost, with the exception of concessions and carnival rides.

*Wednesday finds the Fair volunteers on duty and a rush of people arriving to enter their exhibits. An exciting new exhibit class for 2008 is the Southern Maryland Workboat Challenge, whereby competitors build a workboat model limited to 30 inches total length.

*Early Thursday morning, fair judges are on board and awarding ribbon placements. The gates then open to the public at 3 p.m.. This is a great day to tour the grounds and check out the exhibits at their freshest. Crowning of the Queen of Tolerance highlights the evening’s festivities.

*Friday is school and 4-H activities day. The schools in St. Mary’s County close their doors and students through high school are admitted for free until 5 p.m. Check out the speech contest and the students’ unique display of scholastic exhibits. 4-H activities include horse and livestock shows, and judging contests. The day offers plenty of entertainment, the carnival is in full swing, and the crowd awaits the evening’s lightweight horse pull.

*Saturday’s featured event is the Fair Parade at 10:30 a.m.. Everyone loves a parade, and with the sounds of school bands, dance and majorette troupes, cars, trucks, and the excitement of kids catching candy thrown from decorated floats, who can blame them? Numerous activities and entertainment round out the day, including the jousting tournament, 4-H livestock auction, and the heavy weight horse pull.

*Sunday is family day. This is your chance to show the world your little one in the annual Baby Contest, listen to gospel music and enjoy the horse show. As the Fair comes to a close, exhibitors arrive to retrieve their goods and volunteers begin cleanup while pondering thoughts about the next year’s Fair.

Many of the SMC Fair volunteers have served on the Board of Directors over 30 years. Since its inception in 1947, the office of Fair Board President has changed hands 16 times. Taking the position in 1984, John Richards makes 2008 his 25th year as the Board’s president. Members of the SMC Fair Board manage the Fairgrounds all year long. Last year, over 50,000 people attended the SMC Fair. An additional 40,000 people are expected on the fairgrounds as the Association hosts other major St. Mary’s County events annually, including Friends of the Library Book Sale, Christmas in April, Cole Brothers Circus, SMC Spring Festival, SMC Crab Festival, So. Md. Livestock Expo, Freedom Fest, Cub Scout Week, SMC Oyster Festival, Shop With a Cop, and monthly Rabies Clinics offered by SMAWL.

Revenues received by the SMC Fair Association include a grant from the Maryland Department of Agriculture, carnival operations, admissions, and rental fees. These revenues support costs of the fair, which include building maintenance, grounds upkeep, electricity, sewer, and premium awards. The most recent building projects include the farm building, arts & crafts building, and auditorium. Construction of the new auditorium was accomplished through a partnership of the SMC Fair Association and the Dr. James Forrest Career and Technology Center.

The St. Mary’s County Fair is a treasure chest of priceless gems, shining with a brilliance of what it represents - opportunities to learn about and preserve our agricultural heritage and its relevancy to our life today. As the basic traditions of our early agricultural heritage are fading away, it is important to recollect the industrious work of our ancestors. A visit to the SMC Fair will rekindle memories and assure that many facets of the “simple life”, like sewing, home cooking, gardening, horseback riding, and raising cattle and swine, still exist in our world today.

Perhaps you’re a regular St. Mary’s County Fair volunteer, participant, or visitor -- maybe you’ve visited at least once in your lifetime -- or perhaps 2008 will be your first visit -- when the day is done, you’ll be glad you came, and when you return next year, you will still see the same community pride and some of the same committed volunteers time and time again!

Editor’s note: The St. Mary’s County Fair article is courtesy of the commissioners of Leonardtown and are excerpted from the Summer 2008 issue of the Leonardtown Beacon Newsletter.

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