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Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair: Celebrating 60 years of community
fair 60 years
Thrilled Crazy Mouse roller coaster riders scream as the sun sets behind the Ferris wheel. - photo by Scott Bryant

Most people and organizations complete an event or task and set it aside in their mind until the next occurrence of the event is approaching. That’s not the case for the Kiwanis Club of Statesboro and its two annual fundraisers, the Statesboro Kiwanis Rodeo and the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair. This October marks the 60th annual Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair and the club and its members have been planning for this event since the closing of last year’s event. 

In order to understand the depth of the planning and the impact of the annual fair, one must first understand the rich history that goes along with not only the event, but the club itself. 

In 1960, the Statesboro Kiwanis Club was chartered with 28 members. The club’s objective was community service. Approximately 18 months after the club’s inception, a professor from Georgia Teachers College (now Georgia Southern University), asked the club to come up with $3,000 in matching funds so that he could accept a $30,000 grant to help with student projects. The club agreed — each member putting his signature on a bank note for the full amount. 

In 1962, B’s Old Reliable Carnival came to Statesboro after their event in Evans County got cancelled. The late Tal Calloway suggested that they contact the Kiwanis Club. After some planning took place, the first “fair” was held in the Statesboro city limits. However, in 1963, after some complaints from city officials, the mayor denied the traveling carnival the permission needed to hold the fair within the city limits. 

The Kiwanis Club wouldn’t take no for an answer. Statesboro Kiwanis club members felt that they owed it to the community who could not travel to larger fairs across the state to host a local alternative. Also, kids didn’t have a local venue for showing off livestock they had raised, and members felt they needed that opportunity. Bulloch County Commissioners agreed and gave permission to proceed. A traveling carnival plus a livestock show equals a fair! The fair was held at Parker’s Stockyard on Stockyard Road, just 50 yards outside the city limits. There was an office, restrooms, stalls; a great location for a fair. This was the first real fair, held on Oct. 14, 1963.

The proceeds from that first fair enabled the club to repay the bank note for their first community service project. They celebrated with a note burning ceremony on South Main Street in the Mrs. Bryant’s Kitchen parking lot.

Since then, the club has moved meeting locations several times and the fair had a major venue change to its current location on Fair Road. 

Kiwanis Club President Chris Wiggins said, “The fairgrounds had two previous homes before moving to our permanent location in 1965. Hardworking Kiwanians worked hard to erect a 300-foot-long building to house the original agriculture, homemaking, commercial and 4-H exhibits. We still use many of these structures.”

In the late 2010s, the club was presented with the opportunity to expand the fairgrounds by purchasing land surrounding it and did so, allowing for an expanded midway and more parking. 

Each year, the Kiwanis Club and its members work to improve the annual fair by taking notes from previous years and working to change things to correct issues, improve processes and make things run more smoothly. This responsibility largely falls on the Fair Committee that is chosen each year by the fair chair. This year’s chair, Lisa Turner, is only the second woman to chair the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair. In 2018, the late Deb Pease made history by becoming the first. As the wife of a longtime Kiwanian, Walter Pease, who served as fair chair for multiple years, Deb was a wealth of knowledge and helped many fair chairs before her. 

As fair chair, Turner says she is responsible for “coordinating with all the different fair committee members whose tasks include the parade, entertainment, livestock shows, vendors, pancake house, ticket selling/taking and most importantly, the Midway which is owned and operated by Amusements of America. I am also responsible for marketing and scheduling monthly fair committee meetings.”

One member of the fair committee for 2022 is Vince Galasso, a dedicated Kiwanian who has been a part of 40 plus Kiwanis Ogeechee Fairs. Galasso has served as the fair chairman twice and has served on the committee multiple times. 

While both Wiggins and Turner are from Bulloch County and have grown up attending the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair, Galasso is not from the area.

“I attended my first Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair in 1974, the year I arrived in Statesboro. I had never attended a fair before and at the time GSU only had 5,000 students and I was thinking ‘how big could this thing be?’ From Sept. 1 on, all I heard from my co-workers and my kids was about the fair and if I was going to go,” Galasso said. “Not knowing what to expect, we went and my family and I had the greatest time. I was really impressed by how friendly everyone was, how professionally it was run, and how many people were in attendance.”

Turner said, “The Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair is an event that I always looked forward to each year with my family and friends. Showing livestock, setting up my 4-H mini-booth, eating pancakes, hot French fries at the 4-H building and of course, having fun with my friends and riding the Tilt-A-Whirl, Spinning Bobs, and racing down the slide. In 2016, I became a member of the Kiwanis Club of Statesboro as it’s important to me to give back and help serve this wonderful community and surrounding counties.” 

The Kiwanis Club’s service area included a seven-county area: Bulloch, Bryan, Evans, Screven, Jenkins, Tattnall and Candler. Monies from the fundraisers performed by the club go back into organizations and nonprofits in these areas. Until 2021, those areas were the only ones who were able to show livestock or participate in the Miss Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair Parade, and the arts and crafts, baked goods, canning and produce competitions. In 2021, the area was expanded to 15 counties including Bulloch, Screven, Candler, Evans, Tattnall, Jenkins, Bryan, Emanuel, Burke, Toombs, Wayne, Effingham, Long, Treutlen and Laurens.

Within the Kiwanis organization, members’ strengths are used to the club’s advantage when it comes to fair time. Those that are good with logistics help out in the parking lot, those with agricultural experience tend to work in the Ag Barn and those with good pancake cooking ability are in the Pancake House, manning a griddle. A long-running joke in the club is that Trish Tootle, perhaps one of the most-loved women in Bulloch County, isn’t allowed to sell tickets or take up tickets at the front because she holds up the lines talking to people. So, she has a permanent place in the Pancake House where she gets to greet people and peddle pancake plates. 

Wiggins said, “I love the sense of community the fair brings to the club. We are a close-knit bunch, but during the fair week you really get to see what Kiwanis is all about. No one is there to be recognized or applauded. The members show up to work hard and put on the best event possible.”

“Being fair chair during the 60th anniversary of the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair is so exciting, humbling and rewarding,” said Turner.  Echoing Wiggins’ thoughts, she adds, “However, it’s definitely a team effort  –  it takes the fair committee and all Kiwanians to put on a fair each year. I may be a little partial when I say that I have one of the best fair committees ever this year.  We have worked to make sure we have something for all ages and hope everyone will come out and join in the fun this year.”

In order to become fair chair, one must serve on the fair committee and serve as co-chair of the committee for one year. Turner got the unique opportunity to serve as co-chair for two years. Starting in the end of 2019, Turner became co-chair under the late Danny Beall. Planning for the fair came to a halt in August 2020 when it became obvious that COVID-19 was going to impact the fair. At that time, the fair committee voted to have Beall serve as the fair chair for the following year and he retained the fair committee that had served under him. Thanks to the hard work of Beall and that committee and the community’s dedication to the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair, the 2021 fair broke records in attendance and monies raised. Since approximately 2015, each fair has broken the records of the one the year prior. 

It might sound like fair week is when most of the work is done for the fair, and it is a grueling six-day period with long hours for most Kiwanians, especially those who are still working 40-hour a week jobs. 

“In 2021, members served over 2,500 hours just during the week of the fair not including the months of preparations or other events such as the Kiwanis Rodeo, serving at Rebecca’s café and other events,” said Wiggins. 

However, that week is the culmination of many hours of volunteer time that starts each January when members of the fair committee travel to the Georgia/South Carolina Fair Convention. The convention is where entertainment, ticketing ideas and much more are found and relationships are built with other fairs in the state and region. 

This year’s entertainment is slated to be some of the most interesting of recent years, perhaps of all-time. The committee worked together in early January to get together an impressive roster of entertainers.

“With this being the 60th anniversary we wanted to bring some new shows. Some of these include K9s in Flight — rescue dogs that put on a show, MAX POWER & NITRO — a  walking, talking mobile dance party of a robot accompanied by his own custom-built truck named NITRO,” said Turner. “The High-Flying Pages , famous acrobats flying through the air from a Russian swing, performing stunts midair and they also race motorcycles in the confines of the Globe of Death. Also new this year is Ready, Set, Grow!, an agricultural magic show featuring Farmer Ed.”

The work for entertainment doesn’t end at the convention though. Entertainment chairman Jonathen Bunch has worked to coordinate spacing and managing the needs of the entertainers when they get to Statesboro. Parade chairman Chuck Sheets began accepting fair applications in early summer to prepare for this year’s parade. One of the changes brought about because of the 60th anniversary is to the parade — instead of being held on Monday evening at 5 p.m. to open up the fair on Oct. 17, the parade will instead be held at 10 a.m. on the Saturday prior.

Local entertainment chairman Mike Bowen also has some changes for this year’s fair by bringing in some new bands — one including the reigning 2022 Miss Rodeo USA Jessie Lynn.

Livestock chairman Jason Barnes, along with Poultry Barn chair Alex Grovenstein, began in early summer granting livestock to local children. Children can receive chicks, goats, hogs or lambs. The children must keep detailed records and take care of the animals. They show the animals at livestock shows around the area and are required to show the animal at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair’s livestock shows. The program allows students to receive animals that they might not otherwise be able to afford.

Each member of the fair committee has a role that they fill, whether it’s something as detailed as organizing entertainment or managing the ticket office, the committee’s opinions and ideas are relied upon to make the fair what it is each year. 

As a repeat fair committee member, and seasoned Kiwanian, Galasso’s opinion of why the fair has continued to grow in size and popularity is simple.

“I think the increase in size and popularity of the fair is due in large part to the Kiwanis Club’s recognition that in order to increase our fundraising we needed to continue to improve facilities at the fairgrounds, and our methods of doing business. We have increased the size of the fairgrounds; we have improved the level of our entertainment; we have the best rides and midway. We provide a safe and clean environment. We have free parking, unlike a lot of other fairs and we are using more technology in the financial area. Another factor is population increases in the area. GSU had an enrollment of 5,000 in 1980. In 2022, it’s 20,000 plus,” he said. 

The Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair was recognized by Kiwanis International in June 2022 at the Kiwanis International Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, home of the International Headquarters for Kiwanis. The fair was named as a Top 10 Signature Project for the organization. 

The recognition from Kiwanis International isn’t something that the Kiwanians of Statesboro felt was as important as the recognition from local community members — the club wants the event to be known as a family fun event that provides upwards of $100,000 back to the community each year. 

Many in the community think that the money raised at the fair goes along with Amusements of America and aren’t familiar with what monies stay local. All funds raised at the admission gate, the Pancake House and from vendor fees stay local with the Kiwanis Club of Statesboro. Sponsorship monies along with a percentage of ride fees from the midway also add to the bottom line of money that the Kiwanis Club earns in order to give back to the community. 

As dictated by Kiwanis International, any money raised via fundraising must be given back to the community, so the money you spend at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair goes back to improve the community in one way or another — that might be a donation to Ogeechee Area Hospice, or Bulloch County Schools or it might be money that goes to other organizations for them to disperse to organizations/individuals in need. It might even fund a scholarship for a student at Ogeechee Technical College or Georgia Southern University. 

This year’s fair is set for Oct. 18-23. For more information, hours of operation and admissions information, go online at www.kiwanisogeecheefair.org.

food court fair
Leona Gerrald, left of L&D Produce gives customer Caleb Smith a hand with his drink in the food court during the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair. - photo by Scott Bryant
pancake house
Aubrea Mobley, center, greets daughter Marissa as they get into a growing, snaking line for a meal at the Pancake House during the 2017 fair. - photo by Scott Bryant