Updated: Sep 25, 2019
GALENA–Larry Cording can’t even begin to guess how many brats, hot dogs, pork chops and chicken breasts he’s grilled during the 39 years–40 this year–he’s helped with Galena Country Fair.
It’s safe to say it’s a whole lot of meat, as Cording has been there since the beginning and every year looks forward to the event that draws thousands to Grant Park.
Through its 40-year existence, there have been hundreds of volunteers who have stepped forward to help make the event successful. Some of the longtime volunteers have years of wonderful memories to share.
Cording and the other food tent volunteers have grilled in all sorts of weather, from rain to snow to temperatures climbing into the 90s to perfectly lovely seasonable temperatures. Last year was the worst, with rain drenching the fair both Saturday and Sunday and making conditions miserable.
Even with the crazy weather, the fair is fun, Cording said, and that makes all the hours of hard work well worth it. He loves meeting people and through the years has forged friendships with other volunteers. The camaraderie is special as everyone is there to benefit good causes.
“I enjoy it,” he said.
Through the years, Paul Jackson has had all sorts of different jobs with the fair. He started out years and years ago working with Mike Virtue and others to make 50 gallons of chili and between 4,000 and 5,000 brats at Leo Oldenburg’s grocery store. Local farmers donated the hogs, and volunteers had all sorts of fun during work parties.
“We had some big, fun crews,” said Jackson, who now calls himself “miscellaneous man” and does whatever is needed.
Jackson took a break from Country Fair for a bit, but continued to help with the set up and tear down. He eventually returned to run the brat tent and is now in charge of the ice.
All the work is worth it for Jackson. Years ago he saw the town come alive when people rolled into town for the weekend, and now the best part of Country Fair are the funds distributed to charitable organizations throughout the county.
“You just get that warm feeling,” said Jackson, who emphasized he’s one of 450 volunteers who help to pull off the massive event. Everyone he’s worked with through the years has been great, and he appreciates that.
“I just enjoy all of it,” said Jackson.
This is the first year in probably 30 years that Cliff and Jan Splinter are stepping out of their Country Fair volunteer roles. It’s going to be a big change for them as they most recently oversaw the maintenance crew to ensure the park remained as tidy as possible with the thousands of fair-goers.
Cliff said his work with Country Fair began as he helped with the beer tent, and Jan worked there a couple years, too. When Ron Smith took over as chair of Country Fair, the Splinters stepped into
“Maintenance is a really nice word for garbage,” Cliff chuckled.
The Splinters dedicated a lot of time each year to the fair, spending five days–Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday–working at the park. For the past few years, the Galena High School Key
Club has been a great help as small groups of students worked two- to three-hour shifts and checked
garbage bins and changed bags throughout the park.
“It was more than just garbage,” Cliff admitted as he talked about great friendships he forged with other volunteers and all the people he met. “We made a lot of friendships and acquaintances there.”
All the work that the Splinters put in was always made well worth it in June, when they were invited to attend the grant ceremony and local organizations accepted funds made possible because of the success of Country Fair.
“All the money stays here,” noted Cliff, who is quite certain he’ll miss being involved when the fair takes place this year.
Elizabeth residents Ray and Jane Kumor got a call decades ago from Bonnie Cox, who was co-chairing the fair at the time with her husband, John. Bonnie was looking for entertainment for the fair, and the Kumors volunteered their talents, playing music and recruiting others as well.
Even though the Kumors no longer play at Country Fair, it still has a special place in their hearts.
“We sure miss it a lot,” said Ray, noting how much fun it was to have a crowd of people gathered to listen to the music and how it turned into a giant party.
“We tried to vary the entertainment as much as possible so people of all ages would enjoy it,”
Ray echoes the sentiments of many of the other long-time volunteers, past and present: the hours
they put into Country Fair were never really work because they served along others, made friends and
joined together to make good things happen in the larger community.
by Hillary Dickerson