Updated: Sep 24, 2019
Ed Bochniak’s involvement with Galena Country Fair started out pretty simple when Ron Smith, then chair of the annual event, asked Bochniak if he would help empty garbage cans. Bochniak agreed, and now, years later, Bochniak has stepped in to fill Smith’s shoes as chairperson of the Country Fair planning committee.
In his first year in the position, Bochniak said he’s gained an entirely new perspective on how the fair, held each year over Columbus Day weekend, is successful year after year. In fact, each evening when Bochniak, who lives right next to the park, walks his dog, he’s found himself looking at the entire park in a completely different light.
Bochniak finds himself imagining the thousands of people who will flood through the park, looking at the vendor booths, purchasing items, eating, playing and relaxing.
“We just want people to have a good time,” he said.
It’s the efforts of the planning committee, Bochniak emphasized, that make Country Fair what it’s become during the 40-year history.
“It’s a well-oiled machine that runs itself,” said Bochniak, who refers to himself as a drone hovering over the park to keep the big picture in mind and help where he’s needed. The committee members know what they need to do, and they do it.
The preparations for the fall fair begin in April, Bochniak explained, when the planning committee meets for the first time.
All of the committee members know what they need to do and start moving forward on their particular areas, be that recruiting volunteers, preparing the food orders, marketing the fair, coordinating supplies or any of the other many jobs. Monthly meetings then take place leading up to the event. The last will take place on Oct. 3, just days before the fair opens for the 40th time on Saturday, Oct. 12.
In between the regular monthly meetings, Bochniak said emails go back and forth. At the meetings, there’s a recap of where everyone is and what still needs to be done.
“It moves forward by itself,” Bochniak noted, adding that this year there are several new vendors who will show their wares.
Drew and Michelle Townsend, who co-chair the wine garden, have been involved in Country Fair for 20 years. They both grew up in small towns and wanted to get involved in Galena. Country Fair was the perfect fit. Through the years, prior to the wine garden the past six years, they worked in the brat tent and the wine and cheese tent.
The Townsends have all sorts of great people with whom they work every year. They enjoy four sisters from Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Scales Mound–Christine Bilgri, Jolleen Peart, Colleen Stadel and Melinda Vandigo–who are fun to work with.
Each year the Townsends rely on Nate Droessler and his crew from Galena Hillside Homes to help set up, and then Beth and Keith Kropp and Leigh Ann and David Eaton and their kids help tear down. They’re grateful for Bill and Karon Oldenburg and Ron and Sharon Doser, who help as well and keep everyone laughing.
“Who doesn’t love the music and a beautiful fall day?” said Michelle.
Nancy Brashaw isn’t sure when she started helping with Country Fair, but she remembers a good friend and neighbor who was working for Catholic Charities and needed someone to run the raffle booth. Brashaw volunteered to give it a try, and she’s been going since at least 1996.
“It’s a two-part job,” she said. “Every year in July I start asking for donations for the raffle. Then around Labor Day we put tickets in all the Catholic churches in the county and also at Midwest Medical Center for people to pick up and either send back to our post office box or drop them off during the weekend of the fair. The weekend of the fair, I oversee the sales of raffle tickets and the drawing.”
During the fair Brashaw likes to watch to see what the “hot item” is each year. She can tell from what people are carrying around.
“From where the raffle booth sits, we get to see it all,” she said. “A few years ago a vendor had wooden old ladies dressed up rather comically. Each one was different and the booth drew a large crowd and made for a good laugh.”
Since April, Bochniak has been making sure all the contracts are signed and the signs are ready to be put in place. He’s met with city officials, including City Administrator Mark Moran, Police Chief Lori Huntington and Public Works Director Jim Rigdon–to make sure all the details are covered from security to traffic.
Bochniak knows he’s taking over from Smith, who was incredibly organized to ensure the fair ran smoothly.
“He has done a tremendous job,” said Bochniak.
Smith produced a spreadsheet for Bochniak that has all the details of what needs to be done and when. It’s been Bochniak’s “Bible of Country Fair” during the past several months.
“That has just been my guide,” he noted.
Perhaps the greatest motivator for involvement in Country Fair is the good that results throughout Jo Daviess County. There are grants, of course, but volunteers can also support different organizations with the time they log, and the city benefits greatly as well.
One of the largest challenges Bochniak sees moving forward is involving the younger generation and continuing the tradition. He knows that will require rethinking how things have always been done and perhaps making some changes.
Brashaw loves the camaraderie.
“Everyone pitches in when the other needs help,” Brashaw said. “It’s like a big family. And speaking of family, it’s nice to see the next generation of family helping out. Some kids are coming in to help their parents and grandparents and learning the importance of volunteering.”
by Hillary Dickerson