FIRST FAIR BOARD at Hibbard Road from 1988 included Ed Kviz, Bob Lee, Helen Potter, Denny Burkhardt, Duane DeFrenn, Jerry Buginsky, Joe Riley, Wayne Honke, Leonard Mitchell, Jim Ritter, Leo Constine, Jim Staley, Frank Corrin, Bob Ivan, Joan Jones, Darlene Fitzgerald, Thelma Jacobs, Darleen Luchenbill, Jack Ackerson, Gene Maynard, Sylvia Nations, Bob DeClerg. Missing was Barb Bodra.
by Karen Mead-Elford, co-editor
President Ronald Reagan was in office, the Los Angeles Dodgers were World Series champs, and the most popular movie was Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981; the year that also marked the start of the idea to have the Shiawassee County Fair on Hibbard Road. Now celebrating 30 years at the “new” location with the 2017 fair being held Sunday, Aug. 6 through Saturday, Aug. 12, the Shiawassee County Fair continues to thrive every year.
Fairs held in Shiawassee County have a long history dating back to the mid-1800s, but after Corunna’s honorable Hugh McCurdy deeded his land to the city of Corunna, leading to the establishment of McCurdy Park in 1899, the county’s Farmers Club started holding picnics that eventually evolved into a 4-H event in 1933. Carnival rides were added in 1935. From 1951 until 1981, the event was known as the Shiawassee County Free Fair.
During the 1970s, due to the popularity of the fair, it had become obvious to the fair board that additional space was needed. More fair exhibitors and attendees produced a parking shortage in Corunna, and space was constrained. The fair board became interested in a 127-acre farm on Hibbard Road. To finance the purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Taylor signed an agreement with the Federal Land Bank, which led to the organization of the “Buy An Acre” program where over 150 supporters individually purchased an acre, so that the debt was rapidly paid off. A list of those individuals can be viewed on the large rock located toward the front of the property. The now iconic rock and the silo are original to the property. Fundraising for buildings began soon after the purchase.
The first fair to be held at the Hibbard Road location was in 1988. At that point, the fair office, show arena, 4-H food stand, dairy barn, and a few other structures were already in place. Fair attendance neared a new record high that year.
What makes the Shiawassee County Fair unique, perhaps, is the spirit of volunteerism, which has been passed on from generation to generation, and family to family. For example, Richard J. and Thelma Jacobs have now had four generations of family members involved with the fair, beginning with Richard 75 years ago as a 10-year-old boy. Thelma’s fair relationship began 61 years ago, the very year they were married. “It’s just all so amazing,” she shared. “We always had our kids in 4-H and it just became a complete family experience. I’ve always loved the children. It’s very rewarding. Now the children we’ve had over the years come back to us and share their experiences.” Thelma is still actively involved as the Hazelton Dairy 4-H leader and also a superintendent of the commercial barn.
The fair evolved into a community, even a family, of dedicated individuals coming together on their own time to quite literally accomplish any and all necessary tasks. Frank Corrin, of Corunna, who is the chair for the Friends of the Fair established in 2014, stated “We took a big gamble when we moved out of McCurdy Park. We really moved it all on a lot of hard work.” He described how Hank Kuchar, who lived on the other side of Hibbard Road, had contributed “ungodly hours out there leveling it all off.”
“The way the community has rallied around us for 30 years is amazing,” Corrin shared. “The giving has never stopped.” Corrin’s fair involvement started at about 12 years of age and he has never lost his enthusiasm. “I’m always feeling good, feeling positive, and looking for things to improve on about the fair.”
Another long-time member and fair superintendent, Darlene Fitzgerald, has also witnessed three generations of family involvement. She shared many experiences with both her grandmother and mother who were “both big sewers. That was such a big thing back then, and it’s been such a large part of my life.”
“It required a lot of hard work,” Fitzgerald referenced the early years on Hibbard Road. “There were a lot of picnics out there when we were working on projects.”
Board member and 4-H leader Dawn Reha relayed a story regarding how the Shiawassee Fair Queen came to be, which is also representative of the community spirit at the fair. “Back in the day, at McCurdy Park, I was the dairy queen. Each species had their own royalty then. However, in the form of unity, we came up with the Shiawassee County Fair Queen. Good memories.” Dawn’s daughter was the fair queen attendant in 2005. Her Kidds Unlimited 4-H Club will be celebrating their 20th anniversary in the goat barn this year. The club has three established goals: have fun, be respectful, and learn something you did not know before. These three goals are truly the essence of what the Shiawassee County Fair is about.
The Shiawassee County Fair Guide will be published by the Independent Newsgroup on Sunday, Aug. 6, and will have more highlights regarding this special 30th anniversary celebration.