When Al Parnell, Jr., was murdered this past summer, the Board of Directors of the Robeson Regional Agricultural Fair made a special pact to put on the best county fair possible. They wanted to do this in Al's memory. They all knew they were going to have to work especially hard to make up for the loss of someone who, for many years, had been responsible for all the home exhibits and many other special events during the week of the fair.
All board members of the Robeson Regional Agricultural Fair are volunteers. None of them are paid, although they work all year long planning the fair. During the 10 days of the fair, some of them take vacation from their regular jobs, so they can spend the entire week at the fair. Others come to the fairgrounds after their regular job and work until the fair closes for the evening.
A panel of judges visits each county fair in the state during their week of operation. These judges spend several hours at each location evaluating all aspects of the fair. They judge the appearance of the grounds, youth involvement, exhibits, livestock, vegetable and flower exhibits, use of volunteers, the variety of events and contests offered to both youth and adults, the amount of prize money provided for various contests, the attitude of board members and volunteers, and much more. They even judge the cleanliness of the restrooms.
Each year, the North Carolina Association of County Agricultural Fairs and the South Carolina Association of County Fairs join together to provide an annual conference for those involved in agricultural fairs. This conference rotates between North and South Carolina. This past week, 18 members of the board of directors made their way to Raleigh for this annual conference. They wanted to make sure that everyone attending the conference was aware of the commitment they had made in memory of Al Parnell. They also wanted to make sure that everyone in attendance knew that the 2008 Robeson Regional Agricultural Fair was a tremendous success and that it was worthy of statewide attention.
There were almost 500 in attendance at the conference this year. Those attending included not only board members and volunteers from virtually every agricultural fair in both states but also many of the vendors that provide products or services to these fairs. Fair officials included representatives from county fairs as well as from the large fairs such as the State Fair, Dixie Classic Fair, and the Mountain State Fair. Vendors included representatives from insurance, tent, entertainment, and ribbon and trophy companies as well as those from companies that sell tickets and those that sell or lease equipment to handle electronic tickets. If it is connected to a county fair in any way, there was someone at the conference trying to talk fair people into buying it. The conference included a variety of interesting workshops on topics such as public safety, advertising, exhibits, insurance, using fairground facilities year round, grounds improvements, involving volunteers, and involving ethnic groups. Various talent groups provided entertainment as a way to encourage fairs to sign contracts with them. As with many other associations, officers were elected for the coming year.
During the business session, some of the minor awards were presented. The Robeson County group knew they had done things right when they were presented the first place award for agriculture as well as the first place award for media.
The final event of the conference was the annual banquet. In addition to installation of officers for the coming year and presentation of major awards to individuals, the Image Award was presented. The Image Award is presented to the county agricultural fair that has been judged as the best in the entire state. The 2008 recipient of the Image Award was your own Robeson Regional Agricultural Fair.
This is the eighth time your county fair has won this award during the past 25 years. What more proof do you need that Robeson County has an outstanding county agricultural fair?
I invite you to attend your fair next year, so you can brag that you went to the best county agricultural fair in the entire state. Better still, go out to the fairgrounds and become a volunteer with the county fair. Use your skills and expertise to make it even better. Then you can brag that you not only attended the best county fair in the state, you can also brag that you helped make it great.