In anticipation of the 2023 Lebanon Area Fair, Daniel Siegel, chairperson of the fair board, and Patrick Kerwin, executive director of the Lebanon Expo Center, shared how the two nonprofits work together to make the fair a success every year.
Kerwin, a Lebanon County resident, said some members serve on both the Lebanon Area Fair board and the Lebanon Expo Center board. “So, there’s a very close relationship between the expo center and the fair.”
The Lebanon Area Fair started more than six-and-a-half decades ago to showcase the area’s agricultural work and has planted roots and grown ever since.
“The fairgrounds were bought by a group of people in 1969 who wanted to have a permanent location for the annual fair,” Kerwin said. “It was moving around to different farms and places in Lebanon County prior to them buying the land. And when they did, they started building. They also created the Lebanon Valley Exposition Corp. at that time to own the land and own the buildings.”
According to Kerwin, the Lebanon Valley Exposition Corp. is a separate entity that owns the fairgrounds. The Lebanon Expo Center, at 80 Rocherty Road, operates the grounds and facilities year-round, with an average of three to four events per week.
“We’re constantly going from one event to the next event in terms of preparation,” Kerwin said. “And a lot of our preparation involves cleaning and sanitizing from one show to the next. Obviously, animal shows are a little more intense than the non-animal shows.”
Despite the Lebanon Expo Center being open to outside business the other 51 weeks of the year, its main purpose is to house the eight-day fair, which welcomes more than 50,000 fairgoers every summer. Fairgoers can enjoy a variety of events, rides, games, exhibits, live music, and food and drink options.
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“The fair is my favorite event here every year,” Kerwin said. “It’s such a wonderful experience because it’s multi-generational. And it’s granny and grandpa and mom and dad and the kids. And they all come do something that is of interest to them. And they get to do it together. It’s a very wholesome, wonderful event.”
When asked what level of logistics the award-winning fair requires, Siegel, who was born and raised in Lebanon County, responded, “It’s definitely a puzzle. There’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of different people involved. And in many ways, it’s somewhat decentralized in the sense that every person has their spot that they take care of.”
There are 28 committees that create plans and carry them through regarding their specific roles at the fair, ranging from livestock to food vendors to waste management. The fair board meets on a monthly basis to plan the upcoming fair and make sure the different pieces align.
“At our August meeting following any fair, we’re already developing changes, seeing what went right, seeing what went wrong. And I mean, you have our entertainment committee that has to have acts lined up sometimes in excess of a year in advance,” Siegel said the organizational process behind the fair intensifies around the start of the new year.
A few weeks before the fair every year – this year, sometime during the first week in July – members of the fair board and other involved people walk through the expo center. They determine that everything down to the lightbulbs is functional and if anything needs to be slightly adjusted or changed completely.
“For the fair, we like to showcase ourselves as being in our best possible condition,” Kerwin said. “So, we spend a lot of time trying to make sure we have things as neat and as tidy and as clean and as fresh as can possibly be.”
In addition to the walk-through, Siegel said the layout for this year’s fair has already been planned, with stakes being driven into the fairgrounds and signs being posted these two weeks leading up to opening day.
“They have been exceptional to work with,” Siegel said of the expo center. “The upkeep to the buildings. Their attention to what we need to run a fair effectively. … They’ve been very, very helpful in allowing us to meet our mission.”
The Lebanon Expo Center has two temporary part-time employees – one who recently graduated high school and plans to attend college, and one who recently graduated college – who work in-person from the beginning of June through the second week of August. During this time, the two handle the administrative work associated with the fair.
“The actual physical work involved in setting up the fair is really done by the fair people and the volunteers,” Kerwin said. “And there’s hundreds of volunteers [who contribute thousands of volunteer hours in total], which is another amazing thing about this event, because a lot of organizations are struggling for volunteers. But the fair just seems to attract them, I think, because it’s such a nice event.”
Siegel, who also works as a CPA and operates a family farm, closed the interview by saying, “I’m just a title at the top of a wonderful group of people. All very well-meaning, community-minded individuals who come to do their thing. It means something to them. And it makes it enjoyable to do.”
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