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Scarecrows, Ferris wheels and canned goods: It’s fair time in the Boro


October 02, 2017

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On October 16-21, the Kiwanis Club of Statesboro will host the 56th annual fair at the Kiwanis Fairgrounds on Georgia Highway 67. The vast acres of land will transform, seemingly overnight, into a maze of colorful lights and rides that cater to our inmost need for adrenaline.

The Kiwanis Club held a record breaking fair last year, one that served more than seven counties in Georgia and raised $160,000. The money raised from the fair is given back to the community in generous ways by the Kiwanis Club members, and in 1961 when Statesboro’s first carnival was organized, that same generosity was present in our community.

A brief history

It all started when Georgia Southern University asked the Kiwanis Club to donate $3,000 in matching funds so a professor could take a $30,000 grant. Though the Kiwanis Club in Statesboro was only a year old at the time they were asked, the 28 members agreed to help, and they each signed a bank note that held them responsible for repayment. The board members decided that in order to raise $3,000, they would need to host a carnival and get the people of Statesboro involved.

When the mayor would not allow the fair to be within city limits, the club was forced to move their operation, though they did not go far. In a parking lot just 50 yards outside of the city limits, Statesboro’s first carnival was set up, but not without a few rookie mistakes.

 “We learned a lot that year. For instance, we didn’t have anywhere for people to use the bathroom, so we needed more accommodations,” said charter club member Tal Callaway.

Despite the minor hiccups, the carnival was a major success. The event raised enough money for the club to repay their bank note and Georgia Southern got its grant. Since that first year, the fair’s most fundamental aspect has been about raising money, and the club has always stayed true to its roots in the pursuit of giving that money back to our community.

The following year, the carnival was held at Parker’s Stockyard. Due to the carnival’s success, board members made plans to secure a space for annual fair operations. By 1963, the Kiwanis Club found a permanent home for their endeavors and they purchased a 28-acre peanut field on Highway 67. The first “real” fair was held on Oct. 14, 1963, as it was held on the grounds we use today. Five decades later, the original 28 acres has more than tripled in size due to a recent land purchase. The Kiwanis Club has acquired an additional lot of land over the last month, bringing the new amount to approximately 95 acres.

Giving back

There is no doubt that such a vast space brings ample amounts of opportunity during fair week. The Kiwanis Fairgrounds opens its doors to seven surrounding counties that do not have a fair of their own. It gives everyone a chance to experience the fun and devour a stack (or two) of those soft, fluffy pancakes. The parking lots are packed tightly, people spill into the admissions gates from all directions, and suddenly the vast and open field begins to feel more like a congested street in the city. But, after the rides are broken down and the dust settles back into the ground, it is a whole new environment.

Ashlee Corbin, chairman of the Kiwanis public relations committee, said that before becoming a Kiwanis Club member, she had never been on the fairgrounds when it wasn’t full of lights and rides.

“You go during the off season and you think of how everything seems so small during fair week,” she said.

The transformation is uncanny. You think it’s just a fun, exorbitant carnival until you start to dig under the surface and learn where your candy apple money is going. Perhaps what is even more captivating than that fleeting view of the Ferris wheel is what happens at the heart of the club’s operation, which is giving that money back to the people.

The Kiwanis Standard Form for Club Bylaws asserts that the club’s purpose is to improve the quality of life for children and families worldwide. The more Corbin came to understand this foundation, she saw that each donation had a story, and was unique in the way that it served the club’s purpose. She recalled her first experience of giving a check away to the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Department.

“It was for the child ID project,” she said. The project stores children’s fingerprints in a national database and assists in locating those who are missing.

“I remember doing that when I was a kid, and now as an adult I see the other side of it all. I thought, we just gave money to them for something so important, and it still gives me chills,” she said.  

Without the success of the fair and the club’s donation, the ID project would have gone unfunded. But because the club gave that money back in such a generous way, we are now able to take precautionary measures that will protect our children in the future.

“You start to see the fair in a completely different light when you are behind the scenes and you know the impact that it has,” Corbin said.

When you’re a customer, a trip to the fair can cost a pretty penny. But in learning of the positive effect that it has on the community, expenses seem more than justified. The Kiwanis Club of Statesboro gives a vast majority of the fair’s proceeds to the surrounding area. This includes GSU student scholarships, donations to 4-H in all seven counties, as well as to the Altrusa club, and law enforcement – and that list only covers the tip of the iceberg. It is all for a good cause, and most people who participate at the fair don’t realize they play a huge role in contributing to our community, simply by showing up.

This year, traffic will swarm Highway 67 for miles as people inch their way toward the fairgrounds. You will hear the petrified shrieks and unrestrained laughter long before you reach the gates. Upon entering, you will be mesmerized by the flashy lights and the sweet smell of cotton candy in the air.

At first glance, what you will see is the fair. But the bigger picture is in there if you look closely enough. On the surface, you’re buying a sheet of tickets and a funnel cake, but the deeper implications guarantee more than just a night of fun-filled memories for you and your family.

The Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair runs from Oct. 16-21. Admission is $5 for everyone 6 years old and up. For more information or to see a complete schedule, go online at www.kiwanisogeecheefair.org.


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