Curtis Johnson of rural Fayette, was recently one of nine individuals recognized at the 89th Ohio Fair Managers Association’s annual conference in Columbus, Ohio for his dedication and outstanding support of local fairs. In his case, this would be one of Ohio’s greatest fairs, the Fulton County Fair.
Curt, a lifelong farmer, has always enjoyed the fair and been closely connected to agriculture through involvement with both 4-H and FFA. As a teenager, he and his friends would sleep in the cow barns and trailers during the fair. One particular morning during fair week in 1954, he recalls sleeping in a tent in the area where the baby animal barn is now located and being awakened by the sound of the turnpike construction. Furthermore, when he was in high school, his agriculture class helped work on the sheep barn.
So, it seems only fitting that in 1981 a couple fellows would approach him asking if he would be interested in serving on the Fulton County Fair Board. He remembers thinking that he didn’t have a clue what he was getting himself into. His friends reassured him, “You’ll learn.”
So, began his 32 year tenure as the President of the Fair Board through 2012. Curt is quick to state that the work of the fair could never be accomplished by one person. It takes a team of dedicated individuals. The planning that occurs for the fair is a year-long event. Generally, the Fair Board meets once a week beginning in April and then more regularly as the Fair creeps closer. Curt says, “When I first got on the board, the fair was much smaller.” As things grew, the board began meeting daily the first of August until the fair. In October, the Board begins the entertainment search for next year’s events.
Reflecting back over his years of service to the fair, Curt recalls many fond memories. For him, the fair has always been a family event. His sons helped out at home so he could be at the fair. His wife Jeanne of almost 50 years even served on the Board as secretary for 19 years. Seeing people come together for the fair, for what he calls “wholesome family” fun has been a highlight throughout the years for him.
“There’s been a lot of growth over the years. We’ve bought land, developed it, moved the same fence maybe 4 times, projects like that I enjoyed.” He especially found the expansion projects to be exciting as the Board anticipated the further growth of the fair. He recalls the year that the ground south of the turnpike was purchased. Animal barns were moved including a 200 foot barn and a couple 120 foot barns. “It was a year-long project, such a major undertaking,” he remembers.
Educating others about agriculture through the farm is a passion. Closely tied to this passion, is the fond memory of Toledo Public School children visiting the fair for a lesson in rural agriculture and livestock. The children would visit the pig and cow barns and go for a pony ride. Curt recalls a child saying to him that they had never seen real animals!
Curt has strived throughout his years on the Board to look for ways to improve the fair and educate and involve the community on agriculture. In honor of the 150th Fulton County Fair in 2007, having a love of old machinery, he developed an agricultural heritage display which has become a yearly display. This display can be viewed in the southwest corner of the fairground and features over 100 items chronicling the history of agriculture from hand tools to modern day equipment. Curt has also promoted dairy farming education and the antique tractor display. He has encouraged youth involvement not only through the Toledo Public School visits but also through the Junior Fair Straw loading contest and Curt’s Kid’s Corner Box.
Through the years, he has met many wonderful people. And while there are good memories, there are sad ones, too. Curt had the opportunity to get to know Scott Epperson, better known by many as the Barney Fife impersonator. Barney entertained at various events at the fair including the 2013 Senior Citizen’s Program. In November, two months after the fair, he died unexpectedly.
Curt, humble in sharing his accomplishments, stresses the importance of the team to pull the fair off. “Anything I’ve done, I could not have done without the support of other people.” The outpouring of volunteer support for the fair is one thing that has made him proud. Each Board member has friends, neighbors, and family members who assist. Over the years, multiple people have approached him at the fair asking what they can do to help out. “I can’t say enough about the volunteers,” he stresses.
“For me, I like promoting the fair and agriculture. The Board has always been a good mix of talent, men and women from a variety of backgrounds- auctioneers, merchants, farmers, and excavators. The guys like to work. It’s a real good organization. It’s always been a great group of guys who put in a lot of hard work as a team.”
Fulton County Fair has a reputation as one of the best county fairs in the state. What sets this fair apart from others? Curt states that Fulton County has always tried to have something for everyone with something new every year while trying to keep the focus on agriculture. He feels each county fair is special, though, unique in what it offers and provides to its own community.
His passion and love for his county fair continues even though he no longer serves on the Board. He says, “I still go help, get barns ready, do whatever I can do. I’m thrilled to do it.” During the cold winter months, he spends hours piecing together about 600 video clips and 1200 still photo clips that he and his neighbor have taken during the week of the fair. He enjoys chronicling the week’s events each day and adds music to create a memorable DVD of the previous year’s fair memories. He then shares these DVDs with Board members, Auxiliary members, machinery and tractor vendors, the Fire department, and area nursing homes. While he enjoys the process and time of working on the video, it is even more enjoyable for him in knowing that others enjoy watching and reliving their fair memories. Residents in nursing homes who never missed a fair but are unable to physically visit the fair now due to physical and medical issues can visit through the DVD. He laughs and says even people who come to the fair every year will tell him that they see something on the video that they didn’t even know went on at the fair.
For someone so passionate about agriculture and the county fair, Curt is likely to be a familiar face for many years both at the fair and behind the scenes. Without hard work from people like Curt, the Board members and Auxiliary, and the many volunteers, Fulton County Fair would not be the fair people know and love. It is this dedication and passion towards the fair and his gratitude towards the people who help, that make Curt very deserving of the honor. For him, it’s simply a matter of doing what he has always loved.