‘Welcome Home’ ceremony also moved indoors

By on September 26, 2018
Gen. Tom Hobbins, a decorated U.S. Air Force officer, who spent the first 18 years of his life in Ephrata, spoke at the Welcome Home event. Photo by Missi Mortimer

Gen. Tom Hobbins, a decorated U.S. Air Force officer, who spent the first 18 years of his life in Ephrata, spoke at the Welcome Home event. Photo by Missi Mortimer
September 23, 2018

When Sunday’s rain blanketed the Ephrata area, the veteran’s “Welcome Home” ceremony to kick off the 100th Ephrata Fair was moved indoors to the Ephrata Fire Company Banquet Hall.

The Ceremony was originally scheduled for 2:00 p.m. at the Winters Leadership Memorial and Veterans Plaza on Fulton Street, a fact referred to in the welcoming remarks by Mayor Ralph Mowen.

“I was going to talk about the Winters Memorial behind me but Mother Nature did not cooperate,” started Mowen.”This is in honor of those who came home from the ‘War to end all Wars’. It is to honor veterans.”

The honors were expressed by those in the audience, as well as keynote speaker and former Ephrata resident, retired four star General Tom Hobbins. The Red Rose veteran Honor Guard presented the colors for all five branches of the military as the National Anthem and the pledge of allegiance to the flag were completed.

Former U.S. Army Chaplain and retired Holy Trinity Church Pastor Lieutenant Colonel Donald Lindman presented the Invocation. “We ask that you be with those who are still serving,” prayed Lindman. “That you may grant them your protection. And to be with their families, who also sacrifice along with them.”

Police Chief Bill Harvey served as emcee for the event, introducing the first of two primary speakers, Larry Alexander, to the crowd of 140. Alexander, an Ephrata Review columnist, former reporter and columnist for the Intelligencer Journal, and author whose latest book (c-author) is ‘100 years of the Ephrata Fair.’

Alexander summed up for those in attendance how the fair began. “It was July of 1919. The ‘War to end all Wars’ had just ended nine months earlier. The town fathers and business leaders were looking at a way to formally welcome home the soldiers who served in that great conflict in Europe.”

Alexander talked about the four men (Ed Hibshman, I. Leonard Sprecher, Floyd “Dutch” Bucher and Arthur M. Yeager), members of the Cloister Club, who met on the third floor of the Harris Building so many years ago.

“They had some ideas, but they needed a way to finance any plan,” explained Alexander. “Reportedly, Ed Hibshman was looking out a window, seeing people look in the store windows as they walked up and down Main Street. He suggested an agricultural fair, where farmers could display their hard labors in the store windows.”

Alexander reported that there were 700 exhibits and 140 head of cattle. The fair raised 604 dollars, setting up the event on November 8, 1919. Veterans within a seven mile radius were invited. 93 WWI vets would attend as well as 13 living veterans of the Civil War.

Alexander would go on to chronicle the major changes made over the years, including: 1922-23 — The first rides appeared, including Ferris Wheels and Merry-go-round. 1929 —The start of the car raffles (discontinued 1962 when the state cracked down on gambling). 1932 — The fair is expanded to four days.

1945 — The last week of September is set as a permanent time frame (Continues today). 1947 — Trolley tracks and cars removed. Fair stands face the streets (previously facing sidewalks). 1950 — First Beauty pageant. Miss Ephrata Fair, Tobacco Queen of Lancaster County (Won by Evelyn Ay, who would be Miss America three years later). 6,000 attended pageant.

1951 — First Kiddies Day. 1956 – First Baby Parade. 1968 — 50th Fair. First year of “Tent City”. 1971 — Fair expanded to five days (became eligible for more state programs).

The audience responded throughout as memories flooded back and new information was shared, but there was a noticeable shift of gears when Chief Harvey introduced General Hobbins.

Hobbins proved to be a humorous and mindful speaker from his opening remarks to his closing words. Here is a sample from his speech.

“Among us, who have grown up in Ephrata, who does not have fond memories of the fair? Beginning a new class year. Re-engaging with friends. Football season and of course the fair was right there at the beginning of it all.”

“The goal was to win that stuffed animal for my girlfriend. For the parade, I would occasionally park myself in a tree at my Grandmother’s house. Armed with a soft pea-shooter. Trying to ping tuba player’s horns as they marched by. I really didn’t do that. That was my friends.” And those is the room roared with laughter.

“My home was on Spring Garden Street, but I could hear many of the loud speaker announcements throughout the week. We always made sure to support the local organizations and church stands. Knowing exactly which ones of those made the best French fries.”

“Perhaps one of the most impressive things was the morning after the fair’s last night. You could walk down in town and be amazed to see all was gone the very next day with hardly a trace.”

Hobbins also spoke about the reason for initiating the fair 100 years ago. Also how those veterans might have felt, coming home.

“While our remembrance of World War One is mostly historical, I believe that many living in Ephrata at that time would have been really grateful that those local businessmen organized the fair as a celebratory welcome home for our returning World War One veterans.”

“At that time, Pennsylvania was the second most populous state. 297,000 Pennsylvanians served as soldiers in that Great War. One tenth of them were killed or wounded. 449 from Pennsylvania were also missing in action.”

“So we celebrate the 100th anniversary. I see today as another day of reflection for the community. In what has become a culture of appreciation for the freedoms that we enjoy.”

“We had leading members of the Ephrata community called the ‘Four minute Men’, donating time to prepare and deliver four minute speeches during movie intermissions with compelling reasons why young men should join the fight.”

“Grocers in Ephrata, like elsewhere, often allowed families of soldiers to barter or charge groceries. The price of freedom was high for so many.”

“The Ephrata Fair is more than just a community remembering their ancestors. It’s a 100 year celebration, reminding us that its roots are based defending national freedom at all costs. It’s with great pride that I honor our ancestors by addressing you today.”

“Our Ephrata youth took up the torch and I’m grateful that Ephrata is celebrating this most notable beginning of the Ephrata Fair. I am one of the thousands of youth to have benefited from the fair over the years. It started out as a community affair to honor veterans. Remember the importance of that.”

Before the final benediction, Lindman also commented on the meaning of the day. “It is an honor for all of us to be here to honor those that have sacrificed their lives,” added the former Army Chaplain. “That we may be here to enjoy our freedoms.”

The final touch for the ceremony was a rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ as performed by master piper Jonathan Welsh.


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