Jerry Hammon doesn’t make much of a fuss about it, but coordinating the 25th anniversary of the Allen County Fair, which begins Tuesday, marks a milestone for him, too.
This year will be his 25th year volunteering time behind the scenes, and as a man of few and straightforward words, he says his 25-year commitment is “kind of in my blood.”
“My dad was involved in 4-H and fairs for 30 years, so it’s just been one of those things,” Hammon says. “I like to see the end result of all the stuff we have put into it. You see all these people enjoying events and kids getting rewards for their project. I just hope it’s something they like and that they want to come back to next year.”
Hoping to bring back fans with livestock, music and plenty of mud, the fair will resurrect attractions such as the traditional donkey races and welcome the unexpected with medieval demonstrations. The fair will also have daily giveaways, memorabilia for sale and a fireworks show Tuesday to celebrate 25 years at the fairgrounds on Carroll Road.
“It’s exciting,” Hammon says. “I think a lot of it has to do with 4-H being a part of it and the people who have wanted to stay involved in it.”
“The (Allen County Fairgrounds) board wants to keep it growing and be a place where the community comes together.”
With a full schedule of 4-H events throughout the day, Hammon says the fair grows better each year when it comes to attracting patrons. Tuesday kicks off with the Redneck races and daily monster truck rides; other motor derby events include the new mud bogging (colloquially known as muddin’) and dirt drag-race events.
If all that horsepower is not your thing, there are always the donkeys. The donkey races will consist of five heats of 10 riders who attempt to ride a donkey the fastest for first and second places each round; the finalists then face off in a final heat for the trophy and the obvious bragging rights.
In the same way as the fair brought back the hot air balloon fly-out and nighttime glow last year, Hammon says that organizers revived the donkey races because the event brings the community together, including local businesses that sponsor riders.
But if you can’t hitch a ride, pig wrestling returns for the second year after what Hammon says was a successful debut. Teams of four will duke it out with a less-than-accommodating pig as they attempt to place the porker on a barrel.
“We were surprised because we didn’t know how it would be, and the guy supplying the pigs just kept telling me, ‘Just believe me – it will go, it will go.’ The day of the thing, we already had six teams, and by that night, there were like 38 teams, and we had a big crowd who came to watch. We said, ‘Oh my gosh, it will go,’ ” he says, laughing.
Somewhere between pie-baking contests, greased watermelon challenges and potbelly pig races, the fair went a different route with medieval fight demonstrations. The local Shire of Shadowed Stars is a 30-year-old troupe of performers interested in recreating the arts and martial activities from the Middle Ages.
Mary Wiard, known as the group’s châtelaine and all-around welcome committee, says the group will perform a mix of armored combat fighting and a style of fencing known as rapier combat. Dancers will also perform a medieval demonstration.
“We just wanted the public exposure,” she says. “We are trying to build a relationship with the fair because we do a lot of school demonstrations, but we don’t have a lot of public opportunities.”
Hammon says the group impressed the fair’s organizers when they came out for a practice demonstration.
“We thought it was quite interesting. They are well aware of what they’re doing and how to do it, but it looks like real medieval fighting,” he says.
With the fair’s successes, Hammon still points out a place for growth. He would like to see daytime events, such as the medieval fight demonstrations, become more of a draw.
“This is my opinion, but I would like to see it grow where people can come out anytime during the day and find something to do,” he says. “I just want to keep it busy, and I feel like we’re slowly getting there. I don’t expect it to be a state fair, but I expect it to be a little busier during the day.”