Volunteers work behind the scenes at the state fair

The staff that operates the Judges Chambers at the Delaware State Fair from, left, Diana Chaney, Erika Wharff, Diana and David Jones. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

HARRINGTON – Visitors to the Delaware State Fair strolling the carnival grounds, listening to entertainment and touring the barns may have no idea of the work going on behind the scenes.

But inside the Exhibit Hall on the fairgrounds, there is a team of volunteers helping to keep other key participants happy. Many hands are needed to man the judges, media and hospitality rooms. That’s where people volunteering to judge exhibits and competitions, as well as entertainment acts and even news outlets covering the fair can find respite from the heat, grab a cold beverage and find a quiet place to do some work from the hubbub going on outside.

David and Diana Jones are part of that team; they’ve been volunteering at the fair for a combined 81 years. David starting volunteer 45 years ago and Diana has 36 years – starting shortly after she met her husband and he introduced her to the longtime agriculture and entertainment showcase in Harrington. “As soon as I met my husband, he just brought me right down here to the fair,” she said.

Mr. Jones is on the Delaware State Fair Board of Directors, as well as several fair committees including Budget Finance and Governor’s Day Committee. “When I was asked to serve I was a little reluctant, but I thought, ‘Oh, well. OK.’ and I just really fell for it. I just love the fair and love being a part of it,” he said.

One of his proposals to the board was to have a spot on the fairgrounds dedicated to providing for the fair’s many volunteers and helpers. He found the idea approved yet difficult to pursue with little room for a budget.

“Six directors put up 50 dollars each to get it started that year — got Herrs to provide the chips, Pepsi provided the Pepsis, the local furniture store provided carpet for the floor, the local electrician came and fixed all the lights so we would have lights where we were, and as a banker, I brought all the furniture we needed,” Mr. Jones recalled, noting the spark of generosity from the community that made such an addition possible.

Erika Wharff places pieces of cake on the counter in the Judges Chambers at the Delaware State Fair. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

It wasn’t until a few years later that the room would become staffed, add a kitchen for meals instead of just snacks and drinks, and relocated to provide a location more suitable for the many people and hot conditions.

“(Treasurer Douglas Crouse) doesn’t care how much I spend,” Mr. Jones said, with a laugh. Though he added with seriousness that it is Mr. Crouse’s efficiency and expertise that has helped bring many ideas to life at the fair.

He only missed two years of the last nearly 50 years and that’s when he was serving in the U.S. Army. A time that brought him great respect, but left him weary of missing his second home, the state fair.

Over the years, Mr. Jones has run into some familiar faces and met new people, from former Vice President Joe Biden to country music artist Lee Greenwood.

Diana Chaney left, and Diana Jones have a some fun while making fruit salad in the Judges Chambers at the Delaware State Fair. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“Biden cut his teeth on the fair. He and (U.S. Sen.) Tom Carper both credit the fair with getting elected the first time,” Mr. Jones said.

Mrs. Jones has enjoyed the experiences volunteering has created. She spends her time now running the Hospitality Suite with her fellow volunteers and husband, but over the years, the couple has held many jobs, from seating ticket holders at concerts to running an apple dessert concession stand for six years.

“You get to meet so many different kinds of nice people and people who have devoted a lot of time to volunteering and it’s so much fun watching the kids compete,” she said.

The couple not only volunteer to bring relentless efforts to the fair, they also sponsor a competition: the Chocolate Temptations competition that was held Saturday, July 28

“The children enjoying themselves is truly what makes the volunteerism worth it,” Mrs. Jones said.

The room, constantly full of hustling people, is filled with a constant flow of energy. A fast paced environment of friendly greetings that works to keep the fair at its best as volunteers grab a bite to eat or sit to prepare for their next task.

Despite the many benefits of working for the fair, it is extensive difficult work that would not be as successful without committed members like the Joneses and over a thousand other volunteers.

David Jones has worked in the Judges Chambers for 45 years. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Being able to provide the perks to judges, entertainers and sponsors has many benefits.

The Hospitality Suite is “a way that we are able to say ‘thank you’ to the sponsors for their contributions they give to the Delaware State Fair,” said state fair President Ron Draper, who has been a member of the fair since 1992 and president for the past seven.

“We benefit from this in a lot of ways. The most important is the fact that we’re able to have a good relationship with the various businesses in the community and the state of Delaware. It’s a way we can bring people together to the Delaware State Fair and share with them the agricultural industry that is so major,” he said.

With the 99th year barely wrapped up, Mr. Draper is already looking forward to the 100th anniversary of the fair next year. “We certainly are looking forward to a celebration — that we can celebrate with Delaware and its young people that are a part of the Delaware State Fair.”

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