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Fairgoers lament cancellation of longtime West End event

For many Monroe County residents, going to the West End Fair is an annual tradition. Its cancellation this year has left an understandable void.

“I was raised in the area and have only missed one fair since I was born. It’s our end of the summer family tradition,” said Kayla Stevenson-Mullin.

For nearly four decades, she has been attending with her parents, brother, husband and their children.

“My four girls always enjoy the ‘Farmer for a day’ stand and they will miss gathering up the veggies and milking the pretend cow,” she said. “We will definitely miss all the yummy foods at the fair, especially the funnel cakes.”

The funnel cake is also Jessica Jennings’ favorite fair food.

“We also like to look at the exhibits and to see what the vendors have to offer. My son, Eric, enjoys playing games and the rides, of course,” she said.

On Tuesday, the West End Fair committee met and made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s fair occurring at the end of August.

“For the last few months, we have waited and watched what was transpiring because of the COVID-19 virus. We have all dealt with this pandemic in our own ways whether staying home, taking care of the sick, mourning the loss of others, and resolutely keeping safe and healthy,” Dale “Peanut” Greenzweig Jr., president of the fair committee, said in an emailed letter on Friday.

Long history

The first fair was held Sept. 2, 1920. It was a one-day event called the West End Agricultural Society. Its organizers raised $500 to hold the fair, and nearly 4,000 people attended that day, according to its history page on www.thewestendfair.com.

This is the third canceled fair in its 100-year history.

Greenzweig said it was canceled in 1942 and 1943 due to World War II and things happening around the world.

“Just like in those two years, the then fair directors had a heartfelt decision to cancel the fair. Now in 2020, the directors have that same heart-wrenching decision to make,” he said.

Fair activities

For seven days, crowds enter the fair gates to partake in the many activities - amusement rides, games, derbies, rodeo, music, shows, dance performances, livestock exhibits, craft exhibits and historical displays - and eat the array of fair foods.

“We’ll miss the livestock and the rabbits. Also, the Ferris wheel,” said Eileen Stavey.

She and husband Bill also like going to all the shows and were looking forward to the rodeo.

“It is sad they had to cancel. But understandable. Hopefully, it is bigger and better next year,” said Marilyn “Cookie” Dorshimer, who spent 27 years at the fair as a food vendor.

When her brother died of a heart attack, she took over his Dotter’s London Broil stand.

Fairgoers stood in long lines for the sandwiches.

She has worked alongside her husband, Buddy, their granddaughters Daria and Jamie, other family members and staff.

The stand has not been part of the fair for three years due to lack of staffing, she said.

They have continued to do smaller events since then.

“There are many behind the scenes activities that are needed to run a successful fair. Visitors, vendors, sponsors and nonprofit organizations have always supported the fair and have made our fair a successful event,” said Greenzweig’s letter.

Wanda George spends countless hours creating displays behind the scenes. She has shared her talents with family members.

“I will miss working with my grandchildren thinking of the different exhibits they would be entering and most definitely my flower displays.”

Her handiwork can be found in the various exhibit buildings throughout the fairgrounds.

“I work on finding just the right items to incorporate my shelf and floor displays the whole year long,” she said. “I have my list tucked away in my old fair book. I will keep my ideas rolling. We will be back.”

99th fair

Indeed, the fair will return.

“We will host the 99th fair from Aug. 22 to 28, 2021. As in years past we will continue to support our agriculture and nonprofit organizations in Monroe County, while presenting a fabulous fair,” said Greenzweig.

Until then, Stevenson-Mullin’s daughters will wait to win goldfish and collect souvenirs. Those are the little things.

There is something bigger about the fair that she and others will miss.

“I think what we will miss most from the fair is making family memories,” she said. “We are so excited for next year’s fair and understand the safety concerns surrounding this year’s cancellation.”

Smaller events

The fair committee understands everyone’s frustration. The committee has faced a lot of uncertainty.

“There is not enough guidance, and with information and changes happening daily, it makes trying to plan an event as big as our fair impossible,” Greenzweig said.

He said there will be smaller events this summer at the fairgrounds.

The first one is West End Celebration Fest on Friday, July 3. The rain date is Sunday, July 5.

The event will occur from 4 to 9 p.m. in the fairgrounds parking lot. It costs $10 per carload.

Jeni Hackett and the Brian Dean Moore Band will be on stage and music will broadcast through the radio.

For additional costs, food such as hot dogs, hamburgers, walking tacos, chicken tenders, French fries, pierogies, strawberry shortcake, ice cream, and more will be available.

The event will include Blue Ridge Winery, a 50/50 drawing, a basket raffle and fireworks at the end of the night.

To comply with COVID-19 guidelines, masks are preferred and social distancing is suggested.