Reaching out

Michelle Earle, Franklin County Chamber of Commerce executive director, left, and Cindy Henn, Fair Board secretary, reach out to volunteers during a special July 30 meeting to promote and organize the almost-canceled 2019 event.

In less than a week, the 2019 Franklin County Fair went from being cancelled to having volunteers show up in droves to help keep it alive.

The Franklin County Fair was canceled on July 23, then a decision was made less than 24 hours later by the Fair Board to reverse its action so “Harvest Nights, Under Carnival Lights” will go on as planned on Oct. 1-5 at the fairgrounds on Wilton Circle.

A special meeting was held on July 30 in the large community room in the Franklin County Annex Building with about 60 attending, expressing interest in becoming volunteers.

Fair Board President Barbara Finney said the meeting’s purpose was to field input from the public, civic organization members and government officials about what might be done to improve the fair and make it a successful event.

Many in the audience said they were devastated at the mere thought of not having a fair this year in Franklin County. Some said Franklin County is founded in an agricultural heritage and the fair is an important element to showcase that aspect.

Michelle Earle, Franklin County Chamber of Commerce executive director, said two obstacles traditionally stand in the way of having outstanding fairs — funding and volunteers.

She said fairs are important because they are held at a transitional period when the harvest is over and they serve as a community gathering point.

Earle said a common statement made is that residents have nothing to do for entertainment.

She said that’s hardly the case with 58 events held in Franklin County with half of them offering free admission.

Earle referred to the fair’s various events and the significant volunteer work that goes into putting them on.

“It’s worth it,” she said to the prospective volunteers.

Each Fair Board member explained what they do, why they got involved and how the fair needs more volunteers, especially younger ones, to carry on its tradition.

Earle said the effort will improve annually.

“Find the committee that’s your passion, get on it from start to finish, and it will get better and better every year,” she said.

Wendy Capley, fair vice president, said many eventgoers assume the fair is about its carnival. However, she said the carnival is a side attraction to the main agricultural and artistic events.

She said the carnival is expensive — $25,000 for five days just to break even. She said that if the other events flourish, the additional income can be used to provide a bigger and better carnival which will, in turn, draw more residents and visitors to the fair.

Prospective volunteer Paige Tipton, from Huntland, said she attended the meeting to see whether it would be feasible to have an automobile demolition derby.

She was informed that, at least for this year, such an event would be cost-prohibitive and would have to be added in during later years.

Tipton said she would like to work toward that goal, but for now she is willing to volunteer wherever needed.

“I’m going to go wherever they’re hurting,” she said, referring to how she would help out.

Tipton said she attended the meeting because she couldn’t imagine Franklin County without a fair this year. She added that she’s glad the show’s back on, even without a demolition derby.

“If they can’t have one this year, maybe they can the following year,” Tipton said, referring to her primary interest.

After Fair Board members explained their objectives, they asked the volunteers where they would like to serve and the audience and board members broke off into individual groups to chart their paths and objectives.

Capley said prior to the meeting that the Fair Board had not worked to promote the event the way it should have, leaving her and Finney frustrated to where they felt the event should not be held this year.

She added that the cancellation was announced on the fair’s Facebook page on July 23, and enough public outcry warranted taking a second look at the issue.

Capley said the other members realized the magnitude of the situation, and the thought of cancelling the event rejuvenated interest among the members to reverse the initial decision and let the show go on.

Capley said the issue was discussed with other fair board members from different counties, and Emily Pitcock, a Lincoln County Fair Board member and the executive secretary for the Tennessee Association of Fairs, agreed to help out.

She added that fair board members from White, Warren, Cannon and Grundy counties also agreed to chip in to help make the Franklin County Fair become successful.

“We’ve got a lot of people who really care about us having a fair this year,” Capley said. “We really appreciate their willingness to help out, so we can have the fair again.”

She said that through the Franklin County Fair Board’s rejuvenated interest, it elected members to organize and promote the event.

They include naming Finney again as president with Capley serving as vice president. Cindy Henn is the secretary and Kristie Bell is the treasurer.

Other board members include Christopher Smith, Deanna Sidley, Angie Fuller, Taylor Capley, James Cantrell, Michael McCarver and Kim Cole. All members had been serving on the board with the exception of Cole who is a new addition.

Wendy Capley said efforts will be made to make the fair more affordable, but it will take community support to accomplish that goal.

Finney said it will take a community wide effort with vendors, volunteers and Franklin County residents and visitors chipping in to support the event.

She stressed that fairs showcase rural and agricultural elements which Franklin County’s heritage is founded in.

Finney said the fair needs business and corporate sponsorships to help make the event successful and generate funds that can be used to improve it.