‘Fair’ly optimistic

By on September 26, 2018
Mountain  Road  rocks  the  Ephrata  High  School  auditorium  during  the opening  ceremony  of  the  100th Ephrata Fair Tuesday night, with a laser show providing an intense backdrop. Photo by Kirk Neidermyer

Mountain Road rocks the Ephrata High School auditorium during the opening ceremony of the 100th Ephrata Fair Tuesday night, with a laser show providing an intense backdrop. Photo by Kirk Neidermyer

100th Fair off to a soggy start, with only second parade cancellation in 80 years, but hope remains for a big finish

Steady downpours that lasted most of the day put a damper on opening night ceremonies of the 100th Ephrata Fair yesterday evening.

While the Tent City activities did begin as scheduled, the speakers, special guests, a classic rock band and a laser light show were moved to the Ephrata High School auditorium.

Other events scheduled for the evening, including the highly-anticipated “piggy drop,” have been moved to Friday night in Tent City.

An even bigger collective community punch to the gut was the cancellation of the parade to be held this evening, after forecasts threatened storms with lightning for Wednesday afternoon into early evening.

Safety issues gave the Ephrata Farmers Day Association Board little choice but to cancel the parade, said Beth Quickel, 100th Fair committee chairperson, and EFDA board member.

“We’re just disappointed; there’s no other word,” Quickel said. “But you can’t do anything about the weather.

Word came down Tuesday afternoon through a press release issued by Ephrata Police.

“The Ephrata Farmers Day Association, commonly known as the Ephrata Fair, has decided to cancel the Ephrata Fair Parade,” the release read. “The safety of the participants and the spectators is the primary concern of The Fair Association, the parade committee, the Fair safety committee and Ephrata Emergency Management. The strong possibility exists for severe thunderstorms with strong winds, dangerous lightning and heavy downpours on Wednesday from 1 p.m. – 8 p.m. The hard decision to cancel the parade was made with concerns for personal safety.”

While acknowledging the reaction of many, Quickel looked positively toward 2019.

“The parade is the big one, the big disappointment, but there’s nothing we can do to change Mother Nature,” Quickel said. “The plan is to make the parade twice as good next year.”

The fair parade has been canceled only one other time in its 99-year history, in 1975, according to Andy Fasnacht, Ephrata Review editor and 100th Fair committee member. That year, Tropical Storm Eloise not only took out the parade but essentially washed out most of Fair week.

Later in the evening, local author Larry Alexander, who penned the recent Ephrata Fair history for its memory book, indicated his records showed one other time the parade was postponed from Wednesday to Thursday night, in 1966. Alexander said the rain date was eliminated some time after that.

Quickel said no rain date is set for the parade because of the dynamics of the huge undertaking that includes many people and many bands.

“It’s just too much to change things,” Quickel said. “If it was a small local parade maybe something could be done, but we have a lot of bands and many of them are coming great distances and also have their schedules set six months in advance.”

Long-time parade chairs Randy and Betsy Leinbach responded to an email about the very difficult the board had to make.

“We made the decision because of the weather situation,” they said in an email response. “We have to let people know as soon as possible. It is a safety issue. There has been no rain date for many years because it is too hard to get people together another day.”

Opening ceremony

As stated, weather also took Sunday’s Welcome Home ceremony and Tuesday night’s Opening Ceremony indoors. Though this certainly impacted attendance for the big first night Tuesday, Fair organizers envision better and sunnier days as the week progresses.

“It’s supposed to clear later in the week, so we should have three beautiful days and we’ll just make the most of it,” Quickel said.

“It might be raining, but it’s not dampening our spirits,” said Cindy Mellinger, co-chair with Lynette Sauder of the opening night activities.

“Everybody is rallying around the Fair; people are coming together and that is what’s most important,” Mellinger said. “Sure, there are a lot of things we’d like to be doing outside, but we’re still going to have a great time. It’s showing that people are excited to be a part of something that’s bigger than ourselves.”

Several activities scheduled for opening night have been moved to later in the week, so they will still be available for folks coming to the Fair, Mellinger said.

“We want to make sure the community has enough time to still enjoy themselves,” Mellinger said. “I look at it as an opportunity; people might experience something about the Fair that they hadn’t tried or seen before.”

Quickel was hoping plenty of people would come to opening ceremonies in the school auditorium.

“It really is a milestone we’ve reached and that’s thanks to the community, because it’s the community that has sustained the Fair and kept it alive all these years,” Quickel said. “When you think of how many things have been around for 100 years, you realize this Fair really is something.”

As an example of a tight-knit community, Quickel said she received a call that the Ephrata Lions Club was struggling to get enough volunteers to open the bingo tent, a popular annual venue.

“We knew the community would be very disappointed if that tent didn’t get up, so we made a lot of calls,” Quickel said. “The community responded very quickly.”

Several non-profit groups, led by Leo’s Helping Paws, came to the rescue, volunteering to help and saving the bingo tent for this year. It was up and running Tuesday despite the rain, and quite busy into the night.

Sauder, co-chair of opening night ceremonies, shared the general mood of being disappointed, but optimistic.

“I’m very excited that it’s finally here, after working for this for two years,” Sauder said. “It’s a little disappointing that the rain chased us out of the park, but we’re not going to let it dampen our spirits. You can’t do much about the weather, you just have to be prepared for it.

“(Not having) the parade is very disappointing as well,” Sauder said, adding that the cancellation was for safety reasons.

“The rain has ruined many things this summer, but we’ll make the best of it,” Sauder said.

Anne and Kevin Hackman came to the auditorium for the opening ceremonies, after first spending some time at Tent City.

“I was surprised that the parade was canceled because it’s the 100th year,” Anne said. “I am disappointed about that.”

Anne wore her Wellingtons to make it through the mud, and said she wasn’t going to miss opening night.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for months and about a month ago I put it on my calendar to go to Tent City,” Anne said. “We haven’t been to the pork dinner since our kids were little and that’s something we wanted to do.

“We came out today because I was set on it,” Anne said. “We had a good time, even though it was muddy everywhere.”

“We’re going to the Fair again on Thursday,” Kevin said. “This summer, rain is natural, it just rains about every day.”

Lorie Walker and Myron Zwally of Ephrata had just settled in their auditorium seats and were looking forward to a pleasant evening of live music and a laser light show in a warm and dry venue.

“I like the park, but this looks pretty good,” Walker said.

“We came past (Tent City) and it looked really muddy, with puddles from all the rain,” Zwally said. “You can’t stop the rain, but we’ll go back later in the week. We like classic rock and that’s what they do.”

Mountain Road was the band performing last night and Casey Allyn of radio WIOV was the emcee.

Red, white, and blue balloons and bunting decorated the auditorium.

To start the opening ceremonies, four Ephrata High School students sang the national anthem to the applause of the audience. They were Cody Emrey, Theresa Mull, Emma Grande, and Josiah Ebersole.

David Dreibelbis, Post Adjutant of the Ephrata American Legion post, led the pledge of allegiance.

Elaine Sensenig, president of the Farmers’ Day Association, and Galen Kulp, vice-president, welcomed the speakers and the audience.

“I’m so glad you all came out on this rainy day,” Sensenig said.

Jerry Aulenbach and Vicky Martin of Ephrata were happy the Fair was continuing despite the weather.

“We’re both grateful that at least it’s going on,” Aulenbach said. “But Grater Park would have had a couple thousand people there. The laser show would have been awesome outside.”

“This is great, although I’d much rather be outside,” Martin said. “But at least they have it in here tonight, so now we’re ready to rock and roll.”

Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding was the featured speaker.

“I was intrigued to learn that the first Fair was to honor World War I veterans and a year later, agriculture came on the scene,” Redding said.

Like Century Farms honored in the Commonwealth, Redding said, the state also recognizes Century Fairs, and Redding presented a citation to Sensenig and Kulp, honoring the Ephrata Fair for achieving that designation.

“There are 109 fairs across the state, like patches in a quilt and when you stitch them together you get a beautiful mosaic of Pennsylvania,” Redding said.

Redding also brought greetings from Gov. Tom Wolf, who, Redding said, expressed appreciation for the Fair’s long history.

Pennsylvania State Fair Queen Elizabeth Voight was also on hand to greet the audience. She serves as a youth ambassador for agriculture and represents fairs across the state, she said.

Senator Ryan Aument was scheduled to appear, but was unable as the legislature was still in session. Tina Thompson represented Aument and presented a citation to the fair organizers.

“I grew up here and I’ve loved the fair since I was a young child,” Thompson said. “I am one of many who counted down the days to the Fair.”

Ephrata’s Mayor, Ralph Mowen, presented a proclamation to Sensenig and Kulp, thanking the Farmers Day Association for their diligent work and continued success.

“This has been a fantastic event for 100 years,” Mowen said.

Marylouise Sholly is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review

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