It’s 7:30 Thursday morning and the Wayne County Fairgrounds is stirring back to life. Trash from the night before litters the ground. Tables at the Free Stage are a little sticky and need to be straightened. Overnight lights are still shining.
Several volunteers are roaming the fairgrounds.
Bill Pugh has already turned off more than 25 lights that kept the grounds illuminated all night. Now, he parks his white mini-truck, getting out to walk the grounds while picking up litter.
He turned those same lights on 12 hours earlier, before he gathered the trash cans, six at a time, using his truck to set them along the main road where a morning sanitation truck would empty them.
Peggy and Duane Hieger help pull the rolling trash cans back into place Thursday morning. They wash and re-arrange the tables.
By 8:50 a.m. when the public address system announces it’s nearly time to start the dairy show, the trash has disappeared, tabletops are freshly washed and in place, and another day can start.
Mostly unseen volunteers keep the fair running smoothly. Many have been at the fairgrounds for weeks before the fair started, and they’ll be there for days afterward packing and cleaning. Then, at the fair committee’s July meeting, they’ll start working toward the 2024 fair.
Pugh is one of about 25 volunteers from the fair committee who help every year, said Sandy House, fair committee chair. She estimates volunteers might total 200 when 4-H leaders and Extension homemakers are counted.
“I retired at 62 and started working at the fair. I’m 84 now,” Pugh said. “I just like being outside and seeing the people.”
It turns out a lifetime relationship with ice cream also keeps him coming back.
“He tastes all of the ice cream at the fair,” said House.
Pugh confirms it. “When they have the ice cream social, I take a dip of each one to make sure it’s good.” He enjoys visiting the Ullery’s Homemade Ice Cream stand. “And they’ve got a dairy bar at the (horse and pony) arena. I eat the strawberry ice cream there.”
He worked part-time at the former Wayne Dairy while in high school, then took a full-time job there for about 40 years, starting in 1959. When they made pecan ice cream, he’d add more pecans to his sample.
“I like strawberry the best and pecan is my next favorite,” he said. He prefers ice cream made by the dairy company to homemade, saying it has more flavor.
As a youth, Pugh showed a cow and rabbits at the county fair at Centerville. Coming back to the fair as a retiree, “Gives me something to do.”
His wife, Jean Pugh, also volunteers her time in the fair office.
Ed and Sheila Shaw are also longtime volunteers. Former leaders of the 4-H Horse and Pony Club, they wanted to stay involved after turning the club over to others. Ed likes helping out at the track. Sheila works with making sure the vendors have electricity, water and their other needs met.
“We moved out here last Tuesday (June 13) and we’ve stayed out here all week,” Ed Shaw said on Monday, June 19. “We had vendors calling at 10:30 last night wanting to know if we still had a spot.”
While expressing thanks for the volunteers, House said the fair committee needs more like them: “None of us are getting any younger.”
Like the Pughs and the Shaws, the Hiegers enjoy being involved with the fair. They were 4-H club leaders when their children were young and they decided they wanted to continue being involved with the fair. They have been on the fair committee for about 12 years.
Peggy Hieger summed up the volunteers` motivations this way: “What we do is all for the kids and the community.”
A version of this article appeared in the June 28 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.