The San Joaquin County Fair has a friend. This is the friend that, for the most part, made the fair an annual attraction for the last 10 years prior to 2014.
We’re talking about the Friends of the Fair, a nonprofit organization that was formed about a decade ago. Its mission is “to provide financial and volunteer support for the educational and community-building projects of the San Joaquin County Fair and the 2nd District Agricultural Association.”
“This is a group of committed people that came together so that kids could still exhibit at the fair. We’re a non-profit group strictly to support kids in agriculture at the fair,” said Friends of the Fair President Elaine Bogetti.
“Over the course of the last 10 years, we’ve been able to give out scholarships to graduating seniors who are going on to college, as well as make improvements at the fair,” she elaborated.
More than a dozen students were awarded scholarships this year. Each year, the Friends give away a minimum of $13,000 in scholarships, Bogetti said.
The group has been responsible in a number of improvements at the fairgrounds. They replaced the gutters in exhibit buildings 1, 2, and 3 and painted the livestock barns. Just recently, they purchased brand new wash racks so the students who bring their sheep, goats, steers and other animals to the fair are able to wash their animals and have them prepared and groomed for the shows.
“That’s quite a bit of money,” Bogetti said about the installation of the wash racks.
They’ve also purchased the various awards given to the winners in the animal shows which include ribbons, belt buckles, jackets, sweat shirts and feeders “so the kids got something other than just a ribbon from the fair,” said Patti Fichtner who, with husband Ed, a retired Manteca Unified ag teacher, are part of the volunteer manpower supporting the Friends of the Fair.
All those efforts require money, and the Friends make these all possible for the future farmers and ag students by holding a dinner-dance fund-raiser every year. That event is held in one of the buildings on the county fairgrounds at Airport Way corner of Charter Way in Stockton. In addition to the $30 admission tickets, the Friends raise money by holding a live auction as well as a silent auction during the evening. Since all auction items are donated, the entire proceeds go to the Friends of the Fair’s coffers. The auction always features big-ticket items which include hotel stays for golf packages, patio sets, cases of wine and hand-made wine racks.
Bogetti is confident the full fair will be back next year after a hiatus this summer.
“We’re very optimistic that the Fair board will bring back the fair so that the kids can have a full fair experience with the carnival, the horse races, livestock, and concerts all together. So they can all go back to what we used to have over the last 150 years. We hope not to lose that (history),” she said.
The San Joaquin County Fair celebrated its sesquicentennial anniversary in 2010.
In recent years, the county fair has seen a steady decline in fair attendance. The Fair board is looking at different things to drum up support and beef up visitor traffic to keep the annual event going.
“We hope that some of their new ideas will help so we can get back to having the fair again,” Bogetti said.
She pointed out that San Joaquin County is not the only one that’s struggling to maintain this annual event.
“On the whole, California fairs are all suffering so we’re not the only fair that had had some hardship. We’re just hoping to rebuild. We have tremendous support in our county, and it showed on Saturday at the auction,” she said.
The auction she was referring to was the AgFest held last week through the auspices of an all-volunteer group – not affiliated with Friends of the Fair – that stepped forward to fill in the gap left by the absence of the fair this year. The AgFest made it possible for FFA and 4-H members to show their animals and to sell them at auction which concluded the four-day event.
For more information about the Friends of the Fair or to send a donation, log on to www.sanjoaquinfair.com and click on Friends of the Fair, or call the Fair office during business hours at 209.466.5041. Donations can be mailed to Friends of the Fair, P.O. Box 30176, Stockton, CA 95206.