Volunteers, staff make the fair go 'round

Published on Saturday, 28 September 2013 00:40 - Written by By Will Knous Special to the Tyler Morning Telegraph

The East Texas State Fair is something that comes around every year, and for that we’re all blessed. But because it’s an annual event that’s been rolling along for decades, most of us simply have no idea the scale of this gargantuan undertaking and what’s truly involved.

There are people working year-round to bring this fun-filled event to the days and nights of East Texas.

Take, for instance, the volunteers.

You see these folks all over the fairgrounds, helping out with competitions and shows, taking entries and performing hundreds of other tasks that are absolutely necessary in order to pull off the 10 days of activities.

However, not many people know how many there are or what they really do. They are accepting and cataloguing entries for the Creative Arts Competition, they are decorating for Senior Day activities and they are helping organize heifers for the Junior Livestock Show.

And that’s barely scratching the surface. There are about 600 volunteers behind the scenes, donating more than 4,500 hours throughout the course of the East Texas State Fair.

Then, you’ve got the staff of six that runs the fair — and you don’t even want to know about the hours they put in. Because as everyone is out enjoying the fair’s festivities, the staff is hard at work keeping things running smoothly, while planning for next year’s fair.

They’re tweaking layouts and making changes for the better for years to come, and the work is nonstop. They’re looking at everything from ways to boost interaction with volunteers to the spacing between the vendors.

Speaking of the vendors, there is a huge amount this year, all of them bringing their own products, style and flair the event. There are 43 food vendors selling the most diversified food menu the fair has ever seen, such as alligator and fried pecan pie. But the scale of it is simply enormous. One vendor has 2,000 cases of turkey legs on order. The estimates for potatoes cooked this week are in the tens of thousands. Vendors almost have emptied an 18-wheeler full of bags of Tyler’s Ice — every single day. And with the roughly 60 commercial exhibitors offering information about political parties, handmade lighting fixtures and more, the fair’s electrical bill estimates will exceed six figures.

Then you’ve got the utilities and paperwork to handle. The solid waste disposal is making a daily trip, as well as the wastewater and natural gas all being managed accordingly.

And throughout the year there may not be as much backbreaking, physical labor, but the staff never stops working. There is planning to be done, insurance packages to be assembled, attractions to be booked and an endless series of negotiations on contracts of all kinds.

Too many East Texans never stop and think what sort of effort and coordination it takes to put on an event of this size. Without out doubt, it’s a time-consuming and often overwhelming feat.

But to hear president John Sykes describe it, the sacrifice is well worth it: “It’s easy to be simple,” he said. “But we always want to stretch, and see where we can take this. It’s never easy, but the final product is the reward, and it’s always worth it.”