Jester says Delaware State Fair is in his heart

Bill Jester’s appreciation for the antique tractors and the Delaware State Fair ties back to his youth on the family farm.  (Delaware State News photo by  Andrew West)

Bill Jester’s appreciation for the antique tractors and the Delaware State Fair ties back to his youth on the family farm. (Delaware State News photo by Andrew West)

HARRINGTON — Some notes and quotes between headlines, deadlines and Delaware State Fair food lines…

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Today is the fourth day of the Delaware State Fair.

It’s clear that the traditions are alive and well, and the volunteers that make it go cherish the annual 10-day fair.

Bill Jester, a Delaware State Fair director since the early 1990s, graciously took me on a “10-cent” tour of the fairgrounds in a golf cart Wednesday.

Winding our way through the barns, food stands and exhibits, we stopped frequently to say hello to many of the volunteers getting ready for the 96th annual event.

Bob Merrill was one of them. He was hammering some signs along the back fence where his Citizens Hose Company band when Mr. Jester happened along.

Holding the hammer, Mr. Merrill joked, “I’m trying to find the starter on this.”

From the Editor logo copy copyThe fire company band is participating in the nightly parade and playing on the plaza again nightly this year.

“That’s what I like about the fair,” said Mr. Jester. “You see everybody, you know everybody.”

Mr. Jester had been working for a surveying company, which was volunteering services to the fair, before becoming one of the fair’s directors.

His introduction to the fair came when he was just a kid, showing the family’s Holsteins.

“I had it in my heart,” he said of his dedication to the fair board. “When I was a kid, I would stay here with my cow and sleep in the barn overnight. I can remember when it came on raining at night, you might have to get up and move because the roof was leaking over top your head.

“I guess with all the times I used to sneak into the fair when I was a kid, I’m paying it back now by volunteering,” he said. “I got so in my later years, there were certain places where there were holes in the fences and you knew where to come in. One of the holes was so big you could ride your bike in it.”

Mr. Jester said he has traced the start of his family farm, near Harrington, back to 1854,

Like many of the fair’s visitors, the corner of the grounds farthest from the bright lights and noise of the midway is one of his favorite spots.

That’s where farm nostalgists can look at the antique John Deere and Oliver tractors.

“This is my man cave stuff over here where I do my wish list.” he said.

Not far from the area Mr. Jester has one a camping spot for the fair. He has one of the more than 350 campers on the fairgrounds.

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During the fair, Mr. Jester takes responsibility for the fair’s parking areas and shuttles.

Since the early 1990s, it has been one of the areas of greatest change.

We joked about how hard it was to find a car out in the darkness some years ago and how often people in more modern years would walk along pushing the button on their key rings trying to find their vehicles.

“We used to never have stone driveways and lighting,” he said.

The lighting certainly has been a great advancement for those leaving at night.

In the main lot, the fair will park 10,000 or more cars on the busiest of nights. If you wind up near the back of the lot in the Rabbit areas, it’s a three-quarter mile jaunt if you choose to walk. Otherwise, you can catch one of the shuttles — pulled by Hertrich pickups this year — that circles the horse training track around the parking area.

The fair pays community organizations, such as the Burrsville Ruritan, Harrington and Murderkill Lions clubs, to staff the parking areas. Mr. Jester said he would estimate about $60,000 in fundraising for those and four or five other groups from the effort.

A lot of the Maryland people use the lot on the west side. It is run by the people of the Willow Run Community Center of Sandtown.

The best advice you can heed before heading into the fair is to check to see which lot you’re in.

The signs can be recalled by their animal names or icons and colors.

Mr. Jester said getting fair goers out of the lot is important to him.

The entrance and exit assistance the fair gets from state police, state fire police, DelDOT and others really makes a difference.

“I go to an Orioles game in Baltimore and sit there for an hour or hour and a half,” he said. “Here, most of the time we hear 15-20 minutes. We try to do our best.”

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During the dime tour, we swooped through the Midway area and reflected on how much different it is.

What now is the paved parking lot of the casino becomes the Midway.

“We’re one of the unique midways because we have all concrete so there’s no dust and dirt,” Mr. Jester said.

Years ago, after a heavy rain, it was, well, mud. One of the most memorable pictures this editor can recall of the fair is former General Manager Dennis Hazard with his khaki pants rolled up to his knees as he waded across the fairgrounds.

Marveling at the pace the rides were being set up, Mr. Jester said it is even more so after the fair ends late Saturday.

“By Sunday noon this will be open and there will be parking here,” Mr. Jester said. “It’ll all be down. That amazes me.”

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It’s interesting to note that the 10,000 cars in the main lot at the fairgrounds will be replaced by 30,000 or so country music fans in just a few weeks.

The main stage — where Jason Aldean, Toby Keith and other acts will perform — at the Delaware Junction music festival Aug. 14-16 will be along the training track where hoof prints appeared Wednesday.

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On Wednesday, the behind-the-scenes preview of the fair also included a stop in the Dover Building where this editor sat with Trina Stump and Mary Pyott as they judged canning entries.

It was great to get a taste of the chocolate and marmalade entries and see how they were scored on taste, quality of canning and more.

The two took great care to fill out the scoring sheet completely, but added complimentary notes to the score sheets which are returned to the contestants.

Ms. Stump, who teaches Culinary Arts at the new Dover High, was marveling at the unique taste of a margarita marmalade and made some suggestions to the contestant about how it might pair well with a fish.

This editor asked if the nearly empty jars were indicative of just how well the entries rated.

Indeed, that can be the case. Most of the judges came by to get a sample of the margarita marmalade and savor the lime flavor.

Ms. Pyott recalled a fun story about how the judges nearly polished off a pie a few years ago.

It was made by a first-timer in the contest who was looking through the glass of the refrigerator at a small slice left of it when he learned that his pie had won.

“He had his arms up and he was yelling with excitement,” said Ms. Pyott.

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Dover readers likely enjoyed Delaware State News reporter Matt Bittle’s piece Wednesday on the fundraising effort to refurbish the spacesuit Neil Armstrong wore on the historic moon walk in 1969.

The suit was made right here in Kent County by ILC Dover.

The Smithsonian initiated the online fundraising early in the week. By Friday just before 5 p.m., the total surged past the $500,000 goal.

Plans are to have the suit ready for a 50th anniversary exhibit at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Reach editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

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