Community celebrates heritage as Exchange Club marks 50th fair

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, August 1, 2001

When the midway springs to life at the Exchange Club Fair thisJuly 28-August 4, club members and fair-goers will be celebrating50 years of fun that have been enjoyed by several generations.

It all began in 1952, when the Exchange Club was looking for anew fundraiser. They had sponsored a rodeo for the four yearsbefore that, but the rodeo company had broken up. One of the clubmembers suggested a fair.

That first fair was quite different from the one fair-goersenjoy today, but it was held in the same location. The first fairhad booths made of cardboard and crepe paper and ran for just threedays. The only rides were the small horses, the airplane ride, andthe train, all built by the club members

Charles “Ploochie” Ratliff remembers working on the train andtrack at his sheet metal business, as well as the laying of thetrack at the park.

“When it came time to make a bend in the track, we would heatthe rails and bend them around trees,” he recalled.

In 1955 the Exchange Club was able to purchase the land wherethe park is located, and they began adding to their fairattractions in earnest.

In 1959 they bought the pretty carousel that by the 1980s grewto be too valuable for them to insure. It was sold at auction in1986, but one of the carved wooden horses hangs in the LincolnCounty Public Library. A modern merry-go-round was bought toreplace it.

In 1959 they also added the ferris wheel. It was about that timethat the fair began running for a week. The cardboard and crepemidway was replaced by permanent buildings that were built by clubmembers over the years.

Virginia Ratliff well remembers long nights spent at the parkover the past 50 years.

“We would stay up till midnight, eat a hamburger, go to bed, anddo it all again the next day,” she remembered.

“We were always glad to get to that fourth night, because thenwe knew we could make it,” Ploochie added.

The fair is made possible by the hard work of club members andmany other volunteers from the community. Area merchants also helpby giving door prizes for bingo. King’s Daughters Medical Centerkeeps an ambulance on duty to take care of any medical problemsthat might arise. Good security is also provided by local lawenforcement.

Funds brought in by the fair allow the Exchange Club to give$4,000 a year in scholarships to college students and over 700fruit baskets to senior citizens and shut-ins at Christmas, as wellas continue their tradition of putting out 375 flags on eightholidays each year.

Perhaps the greatest gift the Exchange Club gives the communityis the fair itself — a constant tradition in a rapidly changingworld.

“The girls I gave rides on the tiny cars are now grandmothers,bringing their grandchildren to ride the same ride,” Ploochieobserved.

“We get calls every week from people wanting to know the fairdates, so they can tell their children when to come home on theirvacations,” Virginia added.

Today’s fair visitors may find a few more rides along themidway, but the essential ingredient remains the same as it has inyears past. People come out for a good time of reunion and fun,while lights sparkle, music plays, and onions sizzle on the grill,just as they have for 50 years.