Carolyn L. Higgins – Contributing Writer
In existence for almost two-thirds of a century, the Macon County Fair has weathered the downturn of many such icons since opening in 1953. It has a unique standing as the one remaining “agricultural only” fair in North Carolina. Unlike many fairs, it has no midway with amusement rides, carnival games and fast-food booths. Located at the Wayne Proffitt Agricultural Center at 1436 Georgia Road, it offers so much to see and do with many contests, events, exhibits, entertainment, and great food. There are also arts and crafts, livestock and animal shows and competitions that appeal to every age – all free during the five-day event.
This year’s theme is “Bushels, Bales and Tails.” Always a family-friendly, agriculturally centered event, themes over the years have included: “Focus on the Family” (1985); “Goodness Grows in North Carolina” (1988); “Macon’s Families: Our Future and Our Strength” (1993); and “Home Grown Goodness” (2012). The 50-year Golden Jubilee was celebrated in 2003, and the 60-year Diamond Jubilee in 2013.
Imagine a house or any other structure being in existence that length of time without roof repairs. It seems almost impossible, but the Wayne Proffitt Agricultural Center has survived while providing accommodations for other organizations, including the Big Rummage Sale in July for the First United Methodist Church and the big BBQ Festival hosted by the Franklin Chamber, seasonal craft shows and holdings for livestock owners. Businesses and organizations pay rent collected by the Fair Board, but the rent, donations and advertisements for the program book only cover operating expenses.
Alvin Doster has been co-chairman of the Fair Board for 10 years and has been a board member since 1985. He says he must be a “glutton for punishment,” but his unpaid position is rewarding and especially brings him joy when dealing with children.
“Most start coming through the FFA (Future Farmers of America) classes in high school, and they get a taste of the work,” said Doster. “It sounds like they wouldn’t like the work, but most of them do enjoy it. When they see the progress they can make with an animal, it’s just great. There are girls and boys involved. There used to be the Home Economics class for girls and the Agriculture class for boys, but they combined them.”
“The Fair Board sets up the fair every year, and we do whatever maintenance work needs to be done. The busy time is the last part of August and all of September. I love to see the children involved with agriculture. I grew up on a farm, but a lot of them just don’t have any clue of what it takes to run a farm.”
Doster is concerned about the upkeep for the buildings, along with co-chairman Dennis Conley, and says board member Chris Hedden is spearheading efforts to find grants to cover the estimated $100,000 needed to repair the roofs. So far, they have a renewed grant of $10,000 from Percy B. Ferebee Foundation and are pursuing others, including Carolina Farm Credit, and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
There is still a huge deficit to meet the required amount. Opportunities exist for community contributions and donations in the boxes scattered around the fair. Doster is aware that most people are so engaged in the excitement, they miss the boxes. In addition, few people are aware of the critical repair needs.
“What we are up against is we are a nonprofit, and we don’t charge folks to come into the fairground,” said Doster. “Basically the only money is on the ad sales, so there is nothing left over for the building and upkeep.”
There are four major buildings, A, B, C, and D, which are used for all the displays and related events. According to Doster, A and B were built in 1960 and 1961, making them about 58 years old, and there has not been any major repair work done to those. Buildings C and D were built in 1980, and are now 38 years old without repair work.
“It is time to upgrade,” said Doster. “We need some painting; we need some roofing; and we would love to insulate and maybe put some heat in. But that’s down the road. If the buildings are not maintained, we will be in trouble with them. And if anybody has a rich uncle [or aunt] who might have some money to spare, we would sure appreciate it.”
The Macon County Fair has received positive feedback and the confirmation is the return visitors. Doster says most people are really happy about their experiences, and the attendance has been holding steady. Last year there were many people due to great weather. This year, the Fair Board is noticing a lot more animal interest, so that’s a good sign that people are becoming interested in the little fairs again. They look forward to making the same statement as last year.
“Just about every night, you have to stir ‘em with a stick, because you can’t get around them.”
Doster doesn’t want to imagine a day when family and friends can’t come to the fair to see what life is like in a thriving farming community like Macon County.