Big changes in store for 2013 White County Fair

By Tammy Garrett Originally Published September 1, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated August 30, 2013 at 10:33 a.m.
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Tammy Garrett/Contributing Photographer

White County Fair Parade grand marshals, from the left, Gene Steward, Junior Glaze, J.B. Howard and Lee Stephenson are shown. Not pictured are grand marshals Marvin Harvey and Marvin Moore. This year's parade will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 7.

SEARCY — The White County Fair, one of the most anticipated events of the year for area residents, will see changes this year that members of the White County Fair Board hope will get a thumbs up from fairgoers.

For the first time in its history, the fair will be open for eight days, from Sept. 7-14, providing two additional days to allow more residents to attend the fair, experience carnival rides, listen to country music and partake of popular fair foods, including cotton candy and other traditional items.

“We think we will be able to serve more folks by spreading it out over two Saturdays,” said Steve Merritt, White County Fair Board president.

The fair was previously open to the public for six days, beginning on a Monday and ending the following Saturday night. Having a Sunday included in the fair provides the board with an opportunity to include a special event for the community.

“We were adamant about dedicating a day to church,” Merritt said. Sept. 8 has been designated One Night 2013 and will include free admission, free parking and $1 carnival rides from 1-5 p.m. The event, sponsored by Sons of Thunder and Daughters of Light, will include free food, as well as a nondenominational religious service.

“It’s a day for us to give back to the community,” Merritt said.

Free Night at the White County Fair was previously on the Tuesday during fair week. However, fairgoers ages 6 and older will pay an admission of $1 on Sept. 10. The funds from the $1 Tuesday-night charge, in addition to the increased parking price of $3 for all nights at the fair, will benefit the Animal World building at the White County Fairgrounds, said Gail Snyder, a longtime volunteer and fair board member.

“I have always looked forward to the fair,” said Snyder, who went from years of working the fairgrounds gate to being on the fair board. Being a board member and volunteer involves long days that begin as early as 7 a.m. and don’t end until midnight, she said.

“Some of us bring campers down here and stay that week. I go back to my real job for vacation, but I love it,” Snyder said.

Agenda changes for the White County Fair this year also include moving the parade that has long been the official kickoff of the White County Fair from Monday afternoon to 11 a.m. Sept. 7, when the parade will wind through the streets of downtown Searcy.

“We’re hoping that having the parade on Saturday morning will increase participation,” Merritt said. “We also believe it will make it easier for folks because kids won’t have to get out of school early to be in the parade.”

A bonus to moving the event to Saturday will be that downtown workers won’t have to navigate the traffic congestion the parade has caused in the past.

Even though the fair is undergoing some growing pains, some things remain constant. The grand marshals for the parade continue to be chosen on the basis of their hard work, passion and commitment to the fair.

This year’s grand marshals are a group of local men who have been instrumental in preparing and providing the food for Senior Citizen Day at the fair. The six honorees are Marvin Harvey, Marvin Moore, Gene Steward, J.B. Howard, Junior Glaze and Lee Stephenson.

Stephenson, who has retired from his White County Fair duties, recalled that helping older folks, including many who traveled from as far away as Mountain Home on buses to enjoy a day at the fair, gave him a good feeling.

“Celebrating the seniors and showing them the honor and recognition they don’t get very often was special for me,” he said.

Senior Citizen Day, which is traditionally held on Thursday of fair week, didn’t always include full meals for seniors, fair board member Billy Davis said. After attending a meeting in which he learned that many fairs were providing meals to seniors, Davis came back to White County and began selling the idea of offering more than just soft drinks and snacks for Senior Citizen Day. The event, which is sponsored by White County Medical Center, has grown substantially over the years.

“We went from feeding about 200 the first year to 1,600 and over now,” Davis said.

Perhaps the most popular event of the White County Fair has consistently been the Demolition Derby, which will be held Sept. 14 this year.

“We can always depend on a crowd on derby night,” Snyder said.

She recalled that even in 2009, tornado warnings and flooding didn’t dampen the spirits of fairgoers. Last year, the estimated attendance for the derby was 25,000, she said.

For a complete list of fair events, visit www.whitecountyfairgrounds.org.

None Tammy Garrett can be reached at .

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