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57th Exchange fair ready for takeoff

He doesn’t remember the year and he doesn’t remember the name,but Brookhaven Exchange Club Fair Chairman Ted Ratcliff remembersthe face of a former Brookhavenite he met at the annual ExchangeClub Fair years ago.

“We saw him at the Speedball game, and the kid just keptpitching and pitching and pitching,” he said. “We started talkingto him and he came in from Atlanta, of all places, and he said hecame back every year because his grandma took him to the fair everyyear when he was growing up.”

Such is the draw of the Exchange Club Fair, which beginsSaturday at 6 p.m. and goes until after 10 p.m. every night for oneweek, barring Sunday. Admission to the fair is free, tickets forthe rides are only $1 and food is cheap.

As one of Brookhaven’s most time-honored events, the weeklongfair is expected to draw 5,000 people per night at its peak fromall over Southwest Mississippi and, like Ratcliff’s pitcher fromthe past, possibly from surrounding states as well.

“I look for him every year, but I don’t know if I’d recognizehim now,” he said. “

Despite waves of rain that swept across Brookhaven all week anda forecast that says more rain is possible throughout the fair,this year’s 57th annual fair will go on. But rain is nothing newfor the fair, and even when the clouds do open up on the groundsthe experience has rarely turned soggy since 1952.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and we might have missed oneor two nights (because of rain),” Ratcliff said. “The way thestorms have been cycling through this week, it hits around 5o’clock. We may miss the first hour, but we’ll start ’em backup.”

If more rain dampens the experience in the late afternoon hoursthrough the fair, Ratcliff said the club would run the event alittle longer into the night to compensate. Only immediatelightning will cause the fair’s 11 rides to shut down, he said.

“Don’t be discouraged if we catch an afternoon shower,” he said.”We’re confident everything will go well.”

Preparations to make sure the fair goes well have been going on,piece by piece, for three months, Ratcliff said, and club membershave been making the final preparations every afternoon thisweek.

He said the club’s safety committee has inspected the park’srides and the grounds have been cleaned and spruced up. Furthersafety improvements like new lighting for the grounds has beeninstalled, as safety is a quality the club does not takelightly.

“You always think about safety, and the brighter you can haveit, the better you are,” Ratcliff said. “The police and thesheriff’s departments kind of funnel their staff into this fairbecause so much of the community is here. You’ll see mothers pullup here and let their kids out and go on, because they know thefair is a safe place.”

The fair’s old traditions are still alive, Ratcliff said, likethe Whirley Bird Café and the daily Bingo games, which will againbe administered by 39-year-veteran Bingo chief Charles “Ploochie”Ratliff.

The club will once again hold a drawing for a new four-wheelerdonated by Brookhaven Honda, this year a 2008 Rancher TRX 420.Tickets for the drawing are available at the fair. The winner willbe announced at the fair next Saturday at 9 p.m.

Actually, little – if anything – at the fair is new for 2009,but that’s what makes it so successful, Ratcliff said.

“It’s just a standard, good ‘ole country fair,” he said. “We getpeople who come back to Brookhaven the week of the fair becauseit’s family, it’s friends and they grow up with it.”

The tight relationship between fair and public is of criticalimportance for the Exchange Club, said club president Greg Hoff.Proceeds from the fair are distributed to several charitableorganizations on the club’s donation list, like the Make a WishFoundation, Catch-a-Dream, the American Cancer Society and theMarch of Dimes. Money raised at the fair also goes back into thepark to maintain it for the next fair.

“The fair is pretty much what keeps us going for a year,” hesaid. “It supports every project we have in one way or another, andit takes the whole community. And we try to put it all back intothis community.”