By SCOTT WEISSER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
File the 2013 Elkhart County 4-H Fair under Record.
Record auction? Check. Record attendance? As of Saturday morning, two fair days fit the bill.
Friday’s 4-H livestock sale hit a new plateau, the final tally being $1,042,127.60. The prior auction record of $964,127.20 was set in 2011.
“I think that’s just a testament to this community and what they give back,” 2013 fair president Tim Graber said after the Saturday morning fair board meeting. “...Those dollars, every dollar goes back to that 4-H’er’s hands.”
In terms of gate traffic, Monday and Wednesday set attendance records for those respective days of fair week. Mary Nisly, fair director of ticket taking, said 39,296 people were at the fair Monday, and 46,718 people on Wednesday.
Nisly indicated that two groups drove Wednesday’s attendance numbers. The Kids Day crowd turned out during the day, followed later by fans of country star Hunter Hayes, who put on a show that night.
“We had lines at gates we hardly ever have lines on Wednesday,” Nisly said Saturday. “It was crazy.”
Graber pointed out that the fair’s first Friday set a record of a different sort — lowest attendance for an opening day, going back to the 1990s. Nisly put the number at 16,173.
Two events were moved off the fairgrounds and indoors that day due to extreme heat. The Senior Queen Pageant was staged at Fairfield Junior-Senior High School, and the cheerleading contest took place at Goshen High School.
“Cheerleading is just a huge event out here anymore,” Graber said.
Sharon Wogoman, the fair’s director of ticket sellers, said that if not one ticket was sold Saturday, the fair would still have its best paid gate admission since 2008.
“It’s been an awesome year,” she said Saturday morning.
Big crowds and big numbers were a recurring theme at this year’s fair. And a festival of this size prompts no small concerns for the people organizing it. Count security as one issue.
Fair officials are aware of the risks at large-scale events. Graber referenced the recent attempted bombing at the LaPorte County Fair, and farther afield the horrific Boston Marathon bombing.
“It’s just one of those random acts that makes you stop and think,” Graber said. You never think it could happen here, but you want to make sure it doesn’t happen here at the same time. There were precautions that we put into effect here earlier this year that kind of were behind the scenes here to make sure that we went the extra mile, to make sure this was a safe fair.”
Graber pointed out that boom cameras were set up to monitor the midway. He praised the police agencies throughout the county that volunteer efforts to provide fair security. Graber also said there was perhaps a bigger police presence at the 2013 fair than ever before.
“Not because we anticipated any problems, but it was just to make sure that everybody that walks through the gates knows that we’re not going to tolerate problems here,” he said.
Graber, a parent with children in 4-H, is confident about fair safety.
“I tell everybody: I let my kids run around here with their friends and stuff,” he said, “And I would never do that if I didn’t feel we had a very, very safe fair here.”
Another aspect of fair security is crowd control at the grandstand concerts. Fairgoers at Monday’s Florida Georgia Line show and Wednesday’s Hunter Hayes concert saw differing approaches, each owing to artist wishes.
“Every act is a little bit different,” Graber said. “...Very specifically, Florida Georgia Line did not want interference from the police up front there. They wanted the fan interaction (in front of the stage).”
As such, Florida Georgia line was met with a throng of enthusiastic fans. In contrast, Hunter Hayes preferred the fans kept back a bit more. Security officers complied.
“It’s really balancing both worlds, making sure we keep everybody safe here and also honor the wishes of the individual groups,” Graber said.
Music fans were among the thousands of people who went to the fair this year. And getting people in and out of the grounds is a perennial concern for fair officials. Graber said its the No. 1 complaint they hear.
Take Monday, the day of the Florida Georgia Line show. For one reporter (this one), the trip from Penguin Point on U.S. 33 to the fair lasted 40 minutes. Graber said he heard of a TV reporter stuck in traffic for two hours to get to the fairgrounds.
Graber said fair fundraising efforts are focused on improved traffic flow. In a prior interview, he said a second entrance to the fairgrounds — via a road connecting C.R.s 34 and 36 — is planned. Graber said the idea is to have the road in place by the 2015 fair, though it could happen sooner depending on the success of fundraising. Fair organizers are also hopeful of better flow on the grounds, too.
In addition to being a 4-H dad and a fair president, Graber is in the recreation vehicle industry. He’s the general manager of one of the Class C divisions at Forest River.
Graber said that in this area, everybody suffers when the RV business is down. Right now, though, business is on an upswing. Graber has been in the industry since 1985, and said this is the busiest year he’s experienced yet.
Graber sees the RV industry tying into the fair in a positive way.
“I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for this fair to continue to grow and to be bigger, better than what we even see today in the next five, six, seven years based on what the RV business gives back to this community,” he said.
Optimistic about the fair’s future, Graber can also look back on a standout 2013 fair. Not a bad year to be at the helm.
“It’s been a fantastic experience for me this week,” he said.