The Lebanon Area Fair is coming to the movies.

The history of the fair, which turns 67 this year, is being chronicled in a DVD called Through Their Eyes: Creation of the Lebanon Area Fair. The DVD, which is expected to run about 90 minutes, is slated to be released in time for the 2024 edition of the county fair. 

Dana Lape, current historian and long-time volunteer for the Lebanon Area Fair, said the idea to shoot a video about the fair was based around capturing the essence of the annual premiere week-long event that celebrates the county’s deep agricultural roots and traditions. 

Showing animals was the only activity at the Lebanon Area Fair when it began back in 1957. (Provided photo by Tim McGowan)

Read More: For 60+ years, the Lebanon Area Fair has been one of county’s biggest attractions

“About three or four years ago, I became the historian of the Lebanon Area Fair, and Dan Siegel (chairperson), Sue Werner (assistant chairperson), and I started talking about making a video and recording the older people who helped make the fair happen back in the beginning,” said Lape. “It got pushed off and it got pushed off and after COVID this past year, we thought if we keep messing around we might lose some of these stories that the people could tell.” 

Lape said he approached Tim McGowan, the fair’s official photographer the past 15 years, about shooting video for a film since McGowan had recently purchased some new video equipment that Lape said is capable of making DVDs.

The original plan was to shoot a handful of videos, produce the DVD, and have it ready for purchase by this year’s fair, which runs July 22-29. 

That plan, however, was scuttled early in the process when Lape and McGowan, who are serving as co-producers on the project, realized the treasure trove of stories and information they were receiving. Lape is conducting the interviews while McGowan is the videographer and film editor for the project. 

“We started doing the project this year and we did three interviews so far that turned out so great, so Tim and I sat down and said, ‘You know, we don’t want to rush this, we want to make something special,’” said Lape. “After we started interviewing people, they were telling us about other people who needed to be interviewed for the project.”

The list of potential interviewees grew from a handful to a projected 13-15 people, added Lape. 

“We have to cap it at between 13 and 15 people because if the DVD goes more than two hours, we will have to have two DVDs,” said Lape. “The plan is to keep it to one DVD, so the film will be around 1.5 to no more than 2 hours in length.”

Snippet of interview footage featuring Aletta “Lettie” Schadler.

The list of people to be interviewed reads like a who’s who of individuals who have given of their time and talent as volunteers to make each fair a success. So far, the producers have interviewed Lorraine Royer, Aletta “Lettie” Schadler, and Carol and Richard “Dick” Kreider using a three-camera set-up for the videos that are mostly being shot at the Lebanon Valley Expo Center.

“Lorraine Royer was a big part of the fair, having got on the (fair) board back in 1972,” said Lape. “She actually started the fair queen program that we have today. She started our entertainment – we didn’t have much entertainment until she came along and she served as chairperson of the entertainment committee for many years.” 

Lape said she also played a major role in launching the fair’s scholarship fund, a program that provides funding for local youths looking to further their academic pursuits after high school.

“We probably gave one or two back then but now we give six out,” said Lape. “It’s $1,000 a piece and the scholarship program is running really well today.”

Lape said Lettie Schadler is a household name across Lebanon County thanks to her 30 years of service in the local Penn State Extension office.

Aletta “Lettie” Schadler, left, is interviewed by Lebanon Area Fair historian Dana Lape. (Provided photo)

“She was the home economics person from 1969 all the way until 1999 with Penn State Extension,” said Lape. “She was telling us about this stuff that’s now in West Hall and how it was done back then, where it was shown. The first two years there was this trailer, this small trailer, with shelves in it and that’s where people walked in to see the displays by the 4-Hers that are (exhibited) in the West Hall today. From learning all about this, we found out that this trailer is still sitting on the fairgrounds all these years later and we still use it for storage, so that was pretty cool.” 

Also interviewed were Dick and Carol Kreider, who have served on numerous fair committees and as 4-H leaders for many years. 

“Dick Kreider is a big part of the Lebanon Area Fair because his father was the first chairman of the fair back in ‘57,” said Lape. “His father was also the person who got a group of people together to purchase the fairgrounds we have now back in 1968-69. Around that time they bought the farm and the reason it came up for sale was that while Evergreen and Rocherty roads weren’t there yet, it was the time they were putting it through and it split the farm up. Mr. Plaster sold them the farm so that they would have permanent fairgrounds.”

That move was a wise one since the fair did not have a permanent location and had moved around over the years. 

“The fairgrounds started out at WLBR in Ebenezer, then moved to the Fireman’s Park out on Seventh Street, and then moved to H&H Tack Shop, but then they finally moved it over to the current fairgrounds,” said Lape. “Most of the people that we’re interviewing, the current fairgrounds is where they got their start with the fair. Everyone before that is pretty much gone.”

One item of interest that’s been highlighted during the interviews is how the fair has transformed over the years. Much like a seed that’s planted and then nourished into adulthood, so has the Lebanon Area Fair been nurtured to become the much-anticipated yearly event it is today. 

“The fairs at those other locations were more like a round-up where people came to just show their animals. There were no rides and no other stuff like that, just pretty much 4-H- and FFA-oriented,” said Lape. “The fair has really grown since it’s been out at its present location.”

Other highlights and accomplishments to be included on the DVD include several achievements that are unique to the Lebanon Area Fair: the annual volleyball tournament and the state record that will be set this year by the oldest performer at any county fair in Pennsylvania. 

“We are the only fair that has its own volleyball tournament, which will be held this year on Sunday afternoon on the fields at the Rising Star complex,” said Lape. “The tournament used to be played in what is the Midway today. But it grew so much that we had to move it to Rising Star.” 

The history of how the highly popular volleyball tournament started is interesting.

“Lorraine Royer commented on the DVD that no one comes to our fair and we need to do something to get people to come out here. So they decided to host a volleyball tournament to draw people to the fair,” said Lape.

The record setter who will perform at this year’s fair – and who will be interviewed for the DVD – is no stranger to Lebanon Area fair-goers.

“I remember my dad taking me to see Al Shade, who is a big name around here since he had a show on WLBR,” said Lape. “He’s still singing at the age of 95 and we decided to add him onto the DVD as the first singer to be featured at the Lebanon Area Fair.”

Lape said Shade’s performance this year, which will be at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, will set what is believed to be a state record for the oldest performer at a county fair. He is also undoubtedly, given his age and popularity, the record holder for most performances at the Lebanon Area Fair.

“Everyone at the state fair association says we can’t prove whether he’s the oldest, but they also say it is hard to believe that anyone else has ever performed at a fair in Pennsylvania at that age,” said Lape. “Oh, yeah, definitely, without question – he’s been at our fair more than anybody else that we’ve ever had perform there.”

A reason he is a perennial performer at the Lebanon Area Fair is his immense popularity.

“The pavilion is packed and people sit on chairs outside of it,” said Lape. “There’s not too many places he plays any longer, but since 1998, there hasn’t been a year he hasn’t played at our pavilion stage.”

LebTown asked McGowan what has resonated with him during the handful of interviews that have been conducted for a movie that is, at its core, a documentary about only one of the 109 annual statewide county fairs.

“The fair started very small and it was at various locations until it got to the point where it is now,” said McGowan. “And I think one of the things is that it all started by volunteers. That’s a point I try to get across to the leaders, that people want to volunteer but they sometimes need to be asked to volunteer – and it’s not just during the fair, it’s weeks before and it’s for weeks after. A lot of the people we’ve talked to so far have told us the reason they have volunteered is that they were asked to volunteer.”

Driven by volunteers, it is volunteers that will keep the fair going for years to come. 

“It takes not only volunteers, but it also takes donations of money, donations of equipment and the fine businesses that donate products to the fair,” said McGowan. “A lot of volunteers who work behind the scenes and never want their name mentioned or the attention, but they just enjoy seeing the joy it brings to people and the smiles it puts on their faces.”

One such volunteer who will give her time for the DVD project is Hope Wagner, the 2022 winner of the fair’s Talent Show, who will perform music for the DVD on her violin. Wagner, the 17-year-old daughter of Stephen and Andrea Wagner of Annville, said that although she hasn’t decided exactly what she’ll play, it will be music that is representative of a by-gone era. 

“I know Tim McGowan very well and I was pleased to share my talent with the community,” said Wagner in an email to LebTown. “I believe this was a great opportunity to learn more about our county fair’s history.”

McGowan said he had sponsored Wagner as a performer at last year’s state fair queen competition, which was held in Hershey. “She performed and captivated the audience while the pageant judges were doing the judging,” he added.  

Although no price for the future DVD has been determined, McGowan said proceeds from its sale will benefit the fair.

“Anything we make from this we’ve already determined we’re going to give the money to the fair queen program or another program within the fair,” said McGowan. “Personally, I’d like to see another scholarship added to the ones we already have, but that is still to be determined.” 

Lape said one dynamic that necessitated pushing back the release date of the DVD is the availability of archival materials, especially photography from over the years. 

Anyone who has photographs or any fair memorabilia that they would like to loan or donate to the fair should contact Lape at

“We’d appreciate it if people would lend or donate photographs and any past fair materials like ribbons and programs that they still may have to the fair because we need visuals for the DVD and we also plan to create a historical display for the 70th anniversary, which is happening in a few years,” said Lape.  

Questions about this story? Suggestions for a future LebTown article? Reach our newsroom using this contact form and we’ll do our best to get back to you.

Do you want to see more from LebTown?

Support local news. Cancel anytime.

Already a member? Login here

Free news isn’t cheap. If you value the journalism LebTown provides to the community, then help us make it sustainable by becoming a champion of local news. You can unlock additional coverage for the community by supporting our work with a one-time contribution, or joining as a monthly or annual member. You can cancel anytime.

James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...