Long-time organizers reflect on how the fair has benefitted Jo Daviess County
Updated: Sep 24, 2019
GALENA–Through the years, Galena Country Fair has become part of Ron and Pat Smith. And now this year, after decades as volunteers and 15 years in the top leadership roles, the Smiths are ready to transition to life after the fair.
As Columbus Day weekend approaches and with it Country Fair, on Oct. 12-13, the Smiths are standing by to offer support and answer questions from Ed Bochniak, who will take over the chair duties from Ron, and Teresa Rowe, who will become vendor chair, the job Pat’s had since 2004.
It’s a bittersweet time, but with Country Fair held at Grant Park, just across the street from the Smiths’s Park Avenue home, there’s no doubt they’ll remain somewhat involved.
Ron Smith putting in place the Galena Country Fair sign on the pedestrian bridge leading to Grant Park. Smith is transitioning from his chairperson position this year. Ed Bochniak will take over.
Almost from the beginning
There were two years at the very beginning that Ron wasn’t involved in the fair. The third year, though, while strolling through the park, just across the street from his home at the time on Johnson Street, Ron happened to notice electrical cords on the ground.
He knew that wouldn’t do, and worked to solve the problem, elevating the cords. Ron’s position as a Country Fair volunteer was secured and Pat joined in to help where she could not long after. It’s been fun and rewarding to see the fair grow and become what it is today.
“It’s been fabulous,” said Ron.
Pat has great memories and one in particular stands out. One of the first year money was collected at the gates, Elma Berning, who worked at one of the banks, walked into the Smiths house while a couple volunteers were sitting at the table, a mound of dollar bills in front of them, counting the money. Berning couldn’t stand what she saw and immediately sat down to help.
For over 20 years, until last year, Pat fed police officers at her house during the two-day fair. The house was open, with chili, brats and other food and a television to watch.
In 2003, after years of donating to Catholic Charities, a non-profit formed to keep the money raised right here in Jo Daviess County. The next year, Ron took on the chair position, and Pat chair of the vendors.
“It’s really been a team effort,” emphasized Ron. “It’s not just me.”
Both Ron and Pat are confident in Bochniak and Rowe, who’ve been handed details sheets with what needs to be done and when. And, of course, the Smiths are just a phone call away if any questions arise at any point in the weeks and months leading up to the annual event that draws thousands to Galena and Jo Daviess County.
Pat has worked hard since becoming vendor chair to attend other fairs and encourage vendors to apply for Country Fair. Although she never attended art and craft fair before, she now finds she enjoys the experience and the connections she makes.
“I enjoy it,” she said. “I love it.”
Her efforts have been successful in the great mix of country crafts, crafts and fine art that’s on display each year at the 157 vendor booths. She always finds the comments the committee gets back very encouraging as most vendors have positive experiences year after year. The vendors appreciate that they’re not just a number but a person.
“It’s kind of a family,” said Pat of the vendors, some of whom have been participating for years.
“You just get to know who they are.”
Since Jo Daviess County Country Fair Charities formed 16 years ago, the Smiths’s work has been even more special as they’ve really enjoyed seeing the money raised through the fair go back into the community to do good and meet human needs. The nine-member board of directors awards grants throughout the county to non-profit organizations.
Over $1 million has been distributed since 2003 through grants, to the city of Galena, Galena EMS and fire and to the volunteers who help ensure the fair runs smoothly year after year.
by Hillary Dickerson