Editorial: Town turns fair into treasure
Written by Jan Larson McLaughlin Sentinel Editor   
Wednesday, 14 August 2013 09:49
Jan Larson McLaughlin
It takes a community to turn a fair into a town treasure. Just ask the people of Pemberville.
I realize several small towns in Wood County have managed to keep festivals alive through the dedication of their citizens — Bradner’s Day in the Park, Grand Rapids’ Applebutter Festival, Walbridge’s Rally by the Rails, and North Baltimore’s Good Old Summertime Festival to name a few.
And I confess I am partial to Pemberville. My dad was one of the strong backs that volunteered their evenings and weekends to build the town pool. My mom was the school principal and later the mayor. And my brother readily admitted that he would not buy a house until he found one on the fair parade route.
For me, the fair capped off each lazy summer, with my friends and I marching in the parades, decorating our bikes with streamers, submitting our collectibles for ribbons, riding the spinning Scat after too much cotton candy, then showing off our rope burns from the tug of war.
Decades later, in a world of frequently advancing gadgets and constantly changing technology, there is comfort in finding those same traditions this week in the small town on the banks of the Portage River.
For free.
And that is all due to the people of Pemberville. Nearly all the citizens volunteer in one way or another. Their ovens are working overtime this week to supply fresh-baked pies for the Legion food stand. They will be scraping glue from under their fingernails for days after turning farm wagons into glamorous parade floats.
They will wipe sweat as they stand over hot grease frying up mushrooms in the shelter house. They will gently pull out treasured quilts to display in the school gymnasium. They will spread grease onto youngsters’ arms to give the pigs a fighting chance in the swine scramble.
They will strain their voices to call out numbers and letters in the bingo tent. They will put on their running shoes for the 5-miler. And they will dig deep into the sand for the tug of war in the valley.
They will pick their prized melon or pluck the tallest corn stalk to show off in the scout cabin. They will spend hours transforming zinnias and marigolds into works of art.
And they will pull their chairs out to the curb the night before the Grand Parade to preserve a valuable view of the event that has been known to march on for hours.
Residents who have moved away come home for the week, and find that little has changed. The cow-milking contest may have been replaced by a salsa contest. And the frog jumping competition has given way to a dog show. But the basics remain — pies, parades and pride.
It’s a chance to relive that magic time of their childhood, that made it easier to digest the approach of school at the end of summer.
It is an annual reminder of all that is good about towns like Pemberville — a reminder of what can happen when a town nurtures something until it becomes a timeless treasure.

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