Volunteers vital to success
Updated: Dec 6, 2022
GALENA–Volunteers. That’s a word that goes hand in hand with Galena Country Fair.
Hundreds of people devote hours and hours of time each year–both leading up to and during the fair–to ensure its success.
There are volunteers who work directly through Country Fair, others who help at the not-for-profit food booths and still others who generously donate to make sure the fair continues to thrive.
Michelle Murdock serves as the volunteer coordinator on the Galena Country Fair planning committee. It’s a role she started in while working at Galena State Bank with Libby Miller, who was then the coordinator.
“Once I started helping, she slowly handed the task over to me,” said Murdock.
The fair has its own booths that need staff including Grab-n-Go, the bakery, gates, games, cashier, Vittle House, Gazebo Gardens, raffle, beer wagon, silent auction and maintenance. For both Saturday and Sunday, 350-400 volunteers offer their time. Some years are more stressful than others when it comes to finding enough people to help.
“Sometimes I’m stressed because I’m short a lot of workers leading up to the fair and sometimes I have to turn people away because I don’t have anywhere to put them, but always God has a way of providing exactly what we need and it’s always worked out well,” Murdock noted.
About 12 years ago, early in Murdock’s involvement, only the churches in the county were allowed to provide volunteers. As the years have passed, that’s expanded to include other non-profit organizations.
“I work with a representative designated to represent the local churches and non-profits by sending them information on what booths I need to fill and they start sending me back names of individuals wiling to volunteer,” Murdock explained. “I then log the names into a master spreadsheet and then coordinate back with the designated rep confirmation of shift times for their volunteers. Each organization receives $10 for every hour one of the representatives volunteers.”
Scott Schaber, head coach of the East Dubuque girls’ basketball team and former Galena boys’ basketball coach, has used Country Fair as the main team fundraiser now for several years, both when he was at Galena and now East Dubuque. Schaber was made aware of the opportunity through Tracy Furlong, who is on the planning committee, during his time at Galena. Furlong’s husband, Mike, was Schaber’s assistant coach at the time.
“I thought right away that this is a great chance for our program to perform some community service right here in Galena,” said Schaber.
Schaber said it’s always been his priority as a coach to have his teams be part of community service and emphasize to the players how important it is to give back to the community that has given them so much.
“That is the backbone of what builds a strong, caring and working community,” he said.
Since transitioning to East Dubuque, the fair has remained a positive experience.
“The fair’s staff has been overwhelmingly supportive of our East Dubuque volunteer group,” Schaber said. “We are proud to say that our East Dubuque girls’ basketball team has been the largest volunteer group for the fair the past three years. Our families from East Dubuque have been very supportive of the Galena Country Fair and very appreciative of the opportunity to work along side some really good people. We really enjoy the experience that fair provides which makes it so easy to sign up the following year.”
Schaber said that he has a meeting two to three months before the fair to sign up volunteers representing each player or each player’s family. They pick two shift preferences and Murdock then selects which shift our volunteers will work. Schaber receives a master schedule and the coaching staff then relays the information back to the volunteers.
While the money raised for the team is certainly a plus, Schaber knows the Country Fair experience serves a much greater purpose.
“I feel it’s especially important to have youth involvement in an era where these youngsters are so caught up in the social media world and the world of electronics that they acknowledge the importance of spending quality time helping others versus getting empty fulfillment by being on their phones all day,” said Schaber. “These kinds of projects allow our players to improve their social and communication skills while talking to visitors they have just met for the first time and encourages them to step outside the box of being comfortable in their own surroundings.
“The building of relationships that occurs during the process is unique as well as everyone pitches in to give everybody else the best experience possible which our group always takes great pride in. That is why the Galena Country Fair has been such a traditional success and we can say we were a part of that which is a pretty cool thing to say.”
Galena High School Key Club Advisor Sandra Zink has had her students involved in the fair for the past six years. The members, during various shifts, walk around the park and empty trash cans, provide assistance requested by vendors and interact with fair-goers.
“We began after receiving contact from Ron Smith (former chair of the fair) inquiring whether the club would be interested in assisting with the event,” Zink explained. “Each year we try to provide 15 members to work the designated time slots. Some years there are more members who want to volunteer than there are time slots and other years we have had members who were very busy working and volunteering with other groups also working the fair.”
Zink sees the fair as a great benefit to her club members.
“Members have agreed that it is a fun and easy way to volunteer for a couple of hours for service,” said Zink. “The expectation is that the members represent themselves, teens, Galena High School’s Key Club, our school and community. We have only had positive feedback regarding our members. I share the feedback with all of the membership because they need acknowledgment of their efforts and an understanding of how a little extra effort can snowball into a powerful force to help others.”
Serving up deliciousness
Each year the food booths, run by non-profits, are popular stops for fair-goers who want to sample a fair food including fudge, french fries, funnel cakes and caramel apple sundaes.
The League of Women Voters of Jo Daviess County started making fudge for a booth at Country Fair at some point in the mid-1990s, according to Bonnie Cox, a League member who has been involved in the fundraiser since the beginning.
For 10 years, members gathered in the Cox kitchen to prepare the homemade fudge, making the entire house smell like chocolate for an extended time. During that decade, they churned out 3,000 pounds of fudge.
Then, as the League membership aged, the group handed over the fudge making to the Galena ARC, which did it for a few years. When ARC officials tired of fudge, the League took it back as members learned how vital the fudge money was to the work of the local League.
“Fudge was our life blood,” said Cox.
Using the same recipe they’ve used since the beginning and cooking the fudge very slowly to make sure each batch is perfect, the League members dedicate lots of time to the effort.
“We persevere and no matter what it pays for a lot of our activities,” said Cox, listing off some of those activities including sending delegates to conventions, mock elections, voter registration efforts and advertising.
“We’ve become very skilled at fudge-making,” Cox noted.
Now each year League members gather at the Galena Territory Owners’ Club to prepare 30 pans of the confection.
Once the fudge–walnut, peanut butter, pecan and plain–is ready, it’s cut into 2 inch squares which sell for $2 each.
Current local League co-president Irene Thraen-Borowski was walking through the fair a few years ago when she got the sales pitch for fudge and stopped to make a purchase. She picked up a brochure about League membership at the same time and months later ended up joining.
“I can honestly say that if it weren’t for the fudge table at the Country Fair, I probably wouldn’t be a member, let alone on the board,” said Thraen-Borowski. “It all comes back to the fudge; it hooked me in.”
Fair-goers line up for the Galena Elks’ french fries, which have been sold at the fair for decades, said Bobby Hahn, an Elks member who’s been working the stand for years.
The Elks come prepared each year with between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds of potatoes and 12 to 15 cases of ketchup, Hahn noted.
Lodge members help set up on Thursday and Friday when Vincent Monuments put the tent in place and the deliveries arrive.
It’s a lot of work, Hahn admitted, but it’s worth it. The best year was when Hahn threw in less than $100 to ensure the lodge made $10,000, he said.
All the money raised through the years has allowed the Elks to give back to the community in ways they likely wouldn’t have been able to without those funds.
“We’re all friends,” said Hahn of the atmosphere at the fair amongst those in the food booths. “It’s just fun.”
The Kiwanis Club of Galena has been participating in Country Fair for years with caramel apple sundaes and popcorn.
“This helps our efforts to give scholarships every May to graduating seniors,” said Jay Dickerson, Kiwanis president. ““We’ve also replaced playground equipment in Galena, and we’re in the early stages of replacing the equipment at the Tot Lot. There are many other things we do in the community–a spring half marathon, the July 4 events and the Kiwanis peanut days. But our Country Fair efforts are organized by Theresa and Lew Riniker each year, and I don’t know what we’d do without them.”
Dickerson’s favorite memory from a past Country Fair was the year there was snow and no one seemed interested in ice cream sundaes.
“John Osmanski, Jr., and I came up with the idea of covering the popcorn with hot caramel sauce,” he said. “Now I need to have it every year.”
by Hillary Dickerson