ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JENNIFER PROFFITT
In less than three days, a horde of people will converge on this quiet little town for the annual Hillsboro Arts & Crafts Fair.
More than 40,000 people will make their way to Hillsboro. They will target a seven-block area of downtown Hillsboro, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Around 400 local and national vendors will be on hand to market a wide range of products.
With so many people, and so many vendors, one would think an army of helpers would be required to keep things running smoothly.
In essence, that is exactly what happens.
Every year since the beginning of the fair, nearly every aspect of the event has been handled by volunteers.
Carol Wiebe, executive director of the Hillsboro Management Board and a member of the Arts & Crafts Fair planning committee, underlined the importance of volunteers.
“The Arts and Crafts Association is sponsored by all volunteers, without them, we could not possibly have an event of this size in a community with this population.”
“Volunteers make the fair happen,” she said. “It is a total commitment from the people in Hillsboro to make this event what it is.”
Wiebe said each job is important.
“A number of our friends just do awesome jobs, and when you see them come to town at 4:30 a.m. and work until 7:30 p.m., it’s hard to single out who did the best, because they are all very important.”
Wiebe did however, have good things to say about one particular volunteer. “I think our No. 1 leader, of course, would be the fair director, which is Aldina Franz.”
Franz has been involved with the fair for more than 18 years, serving as president of the Arts & Crafts Association for 15 of those years.
One of the keys to success for the annual fair, is the excellent organization.
Planning begins as early as January, when committees are selected and the mailing list is updated.
More than 1,400 applications and brochures are mailed by March 1 to those who have asked for information.
Applications must be returned by May 1; all 400 vendors are chosen and placed by June 1.
The fair is also well-publicized throughout the year. Carol Breese, also a charter member of the fair association, has been in charge of publicity for more than 30 years.
She begins in January and promotes the fair through several venues every month, including magazines and television.
The week before the fair, Franz begins preparing information packets for the vendors.
The packets include detailed instructions covering every aspect of the day’s events.
This helps to minimize confusion and keeps the set-up process running smoothly.
The night before the fair, at 4 a.m., Helen McMinn and her crew of volunteers, known as “The Dawn Patrol,” are busy premarking all the sidewalk spaces for the vendors.
They also put the vendor numbers on the windows of the storefronts and doublecheck all of the vendor spaces, ensuring everyone will be in the right place.
McMinn echoed Wiebe’s sentiments.
“I don’t think there would be a fair without volunteers, because you couldn’t possibly pay all these people for the terrific amount of time that goes into it.”
All of the volunteers will arrive by 4:45 a.m., and Kerry Shewey distributes coffee and rolls so that by 5 a.m. they are ready to go.
Just before 5 a.m., Jane Long heads to Memorial Park with the information packets for the vendors.
Once the exhibitors get here, Carolyn Kleiber, who is in charge of the fair officials-a.k.a. the set up crew-gets everyone into their yellow vests and into position.
Johnnie Liles, city superintendent, has been in charge of the early-morning set up for more than 15 years.
“I really appreciate him,” Franz said. “He is a very hard worker.”
Liles and Kleiber coordinate the volunteers to help ensure the vendors have no trouble finding the right space.
“Each block has an entrance person to allow the vehicles in and each block has four or five people to help the exhibitors find their spot,” said Franz. “Then they have 20 minutes to unload, park their vehicles and come back and set up.”
Jim Brennan is in charge of artist parking, and makes sure the vehicles do not end up in a jumbled mess.
There are several business properties located in the fair area where exhibitors can park. They can also park along the street within a two-block area.
Franz said, “It is so good to have businesses that own property in town, because they allow the exhibitors to park there free of charge.”
The Sons of the American Legion are in charge of the public parking, located at the fairgrounds.
The parking fee will be $2, and a shuttle bus is provided to and from the fair area.
The bus stop will be located directly west of the First Mennonite Church, located on Ash and Grand streets. USD 410 provides the busses and the drivers.
Another necessity provided by volunteers is the information booth.
Elaine Baker, who is in charge of the booth, has several volunteers helping people with all types of questions throughout the day.
Although many of the volunteers are adults, many other generations help make the fair a success.
“I think the neat thing about the success of the fair is that it crosses all ages,” Wiebe said.
“Dave Clark (music instructor) from the high-school will have students there at 5 a.m. to help exhibitors unload,” Franz said.
The students will also help service the 75 trash boxes located around the fair throughout the day.
The South Cottonwood 4-H Club will be setting up the benches along West Grand, and they open up all of the boxes to be used as trash cans.
The junior high youth group from the Hillsboro MB Church will be cleaning up the streets after the fair is over.
Franz also said the Hillsboro Police Department will provide extra officers to help direct traffic and ease early morning congestion.
Along with police protection, a volunteer-manned first aid station will be run by JoAnn Knak. It will be located at the fire station area on North Washington.
Volunteers will also be in the Chamber office throughout the day to answer telephones.
John Ryding and Pete Klassen are in charge of communications and the public address system for the information booth.
In addition to providing free coffee for the vendors in the wee hours of the morning, Marsha Setzkorn-Meyer is in charge of the food concessions.
A long-standing tradition of the Hillsboro fair has been the wonderful ethnic food offered by local vendors.
Many people from the community are involved with the food concessions, either through their church or various civic groups.
“You know really they are all artists,” said Franz. “All these people who make these cinnamon rolls, peppernuts, pies…there is an art to making those things. I admire these people who can do all of these things. It’s a lost art.”
Breese called the local food preparers, “the biggest group of the hardest working people I know.”
Whether helping with food concessions, or some other aspect of the fair, it seems almost everyone in the community gets involved.
“I truly hope so,” Wiebe said. “And if they’re not, I want their name.”