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Volunteers put in time, effort for yearly event

Since 1952, the Brookhaven Exchange Club has brought lights,thrills and excitement to Lincoln County with its annual fair. Foralmost 50 years, those thrills have been made possible by countlessvolunteers.

Every year, it takes around 200 volunteers, including clubmembers and residents, to keep the week-long event alive andrunning full force.

“It takes a lot of effort, dedication, loyalty and sweat to putthis fair together,” said Harold Gary, who has been a member of theclub for 22 years.

Since there are only around 80 members, other volunteers arevital to the operation of the Brookhaven Exchange Club Fair.Volunteers are needed to cook food, operate rides, distributetickets, run games, provide security and clean up.

“It’s just good that we have so many volunteers that help usbecause we wouldn’t be able to put it on without them,” saidMitchell Davis, a member for around 30 years and a former fairchairman.

Many volunteers are club members, or exchangettes, the wives ofclub members, who have been participating in the fair foryears.

“It has been a part of our lives ever since my husband, Frank,became a member 50 years ago,” said Kay Burns, who has volunteeredsince the first fair.

Other volunteers who were around to see the first fair includeCharles “Ploochie” and Virginia Ratliff. They have worked everyyear to bring fun to children and adults alike.

“I started with the little car rides in (19)52, then I took overthe bingo in 1970, and I couldn’t have done it without my wife,”said Mr. Ratliff, who is the only charter member still in theclub.

He and his wife have continued to head up the bingo this year.He announces the letters and numbers, while she makes sure all theprizes are given to the winners.

While the members strive to contribute all they can, they alsohave to call on friends and other members of the community for helpduring the fair. There are always plenty of generous volunteers whodon’t mind working to help out a friend.

Some of the volunteers lend a hand by manning the booths. Theyalso benefit from their efforts by having the opportunity to feelgood about helping others. That good feeling brings volunteers backevery year.

“I volunteered for the first time when it was open earlier thisyear and I said I’d work again because it’s nice to be able to helppeople when they need it,” said Janet Johnson, a grab bag boothvolunteer this year.

The volunteers’ children also have benefits because they usuallyget to go to the fair every night while their parents work. Theyreceive a special arm band for rides if their parents volunteerthroughout the six-day event.

Parents say that serves as an extra incentive because they knowhow important it is to have fun as a child.

“I grew up coming out here and I want my kids to enjoy that samefun I had,” said Shari Crosby, a three-year volunteer.

One volunteer decided to help out because the club had helpedher out in the past.

Amanda Davis was awarded a scholarship to college from the clubtwo years ago, and to show her appreciation she worked at thefair.

“She said volunteering at the fair every year was the least shecould do,” said Mary Ratliff, about the college student.

Volunteers also help out before the fair begins every year.Preparation of rides and booths are important for a successfulfair, according to club members.

Members of the community often utilized their special skills tohelp fix broken or run-down rides. Volunteers can help by paintingand maintaining rides, too.

“I helped them with the ferris wheel, fixing it up, and I tooksome of the tilt-a-whirl cars home and did some welding on them,”said Jerry Freeman, who along with his wife, Regina, have beentaking care of the basketball shoot this year.

Safety is another area where volunteers are needed at the fair.It is the club’s goal to put on an entertaining show and make sureparents feel safe allowing their kids to attend.

“We want parents to know it’s safe enough to drop their kids offfor a few hours,” said Gary, adding how common the practice isamong local parents.

Law enforcement officers encompass the park heavily during thefair to make sure everything runs smoothly. Sheriff’s deputies andpolice officers work overtime, some even during their vacation, topatrol the fair properly, explained club members.

Other emergency personnel, including paramedics, firstresponders and firefighters, are also a common sight on the firegrounds.

“Every night a volunteer fire department works, so just in caseanything happens, we’ll be here,” said County Fire CoordinatorClifford Galey.

As volunteers mill around the fair tending to their variousassigned jobs, most say it is the enjoyment evident on children’sfaces that keeps them going. The fellowship at the fair is alsonice, many said.

“It’s a good time to get out and see the people of Brookhaven,”said volunteer Lisa Edmonson.