By PETE DELEA
Daily News-Record 8/19/19
HARRISONBURG — Like many volunteers at the Rockingham County Fair, Bobby and Vicki Cook’s work for the annual festival begins months before thousands of guests flock through the gates to enjoy the rides, food, concerts and animals.
During fair week, they often spend roughly 15 hours at the fair each day helping to make it run smoothly.
“We love the fair,” said Vicki Cook, 70, of Bridgewater. “We want to see it survive and stay in the county so kids can enjoy what our child did.”
Rebecca Holloway, the fair’s manager, said volunteers are critical to the success of the fair, which this year ran from Aug. 12 through Saturday. Each fair, there are only four full-time employees and four part-timers.
“A lot of them have been volunteers year after year,” she said. “They make the fair work. I don’t make the fair work. They do.”
She said each of the fair’s 18 departments finds their own volunteers so a total number of helpers weren’t available. However, she said, it’s at least in the hundreds. She said she can’t imagine how much time each puts into the event.
“The volunteer hours ... I don’t even know what the number is. It’s a ridiculous number,” she said.
For many, she said, helping out at the fair each year is a way of life.
“It’s a tradition,” she said. “It’s such a huge thing for our county that people want to be involved.”
Vicki Cook is one of those who wants to be involved.
While her husband has organized the farm museum at the fair, Vicki Cook makes sure the vendors inside the exhibit hall are in place.
She starts in January by mailing potential vendors. In the months to come, she books the vendors, receives their payments and makes sure they have everything they need to set up their booths.
During the fair, she unlocks the exhibit hall each morning at 7 and usually closes it at midnight.
In addition to the work for the weeklong carnival, Cook — who spent 20 years in payroll at James Madison University — helps year-round by completing the fair’s payroll.
While she enjoys the fair, she said it needs fresh blood for it to be sustainable.
“We need younger people involved,” she said.
One of the younger volunteers, A.J. Simmons, 46, of Harrisonburg, runs the fair’s dirt crew.
The crew, which is all volunteer, makes sure the grandstands are ready for each night’s main attraction.
Simmons, who has volunteered for the last 12 years, said the crew was up until 4 a.m. last Monday to make sure everything was in place for the fair’s first rodeo.
He credits his team for the success.
“Without the workers, there’s no way we could do this,” he said, adding that many of them took vacation days from their full-time jobs to volunteer for the fair.
While Simmons makes sure that the grandstands are ready for guests, volunteers with the Mount Crawford Ruritan Club are making sure they have plenty of food.
The club has been selling food, including deep-fried pickles, since 2000. Proceeds go toward helping local organizations, including FFA groups, fire departments and rescue squads.
Amy Keeler, 43, has been volunteering since the beginning. She said she enjoys the partnership the club, and other nonprofits, has with the fair.
“The fair wouldn’t be here without us and we wouldn’t be here without the fair,” she said. “It goes hand-and-hand.”