The Unionville Community Fair has been saved from the brink of dissolution.Plans were under way over the winter to dissolve the long-running fair. There just were not enough volunteers to pull it off. Six months later there is a nearly full roster of willing workers, a brand new location, a new date and much excitement for the 2008 fair.

The 84th Unionville Community Fair will be hosted by Landhope Farms on the grounds of the Willowdale Steeplechase October 3, 4 and 5. The fair will have a whole new face, but will retain the same character and all the elements that made it so popular for so long.

Fair president Jayne Shea said, "This is such a gorgeous location. Last year at this time I don't think we ever dreamed we would even have the fair. To think we got volunteers to sign up and then to be having it at this wonderful place. We are just so grateful."

Longtime fair organizer Bonnie Musser said it had long been her dream to have the fair at Willowdale. She asked what could be better than having an agricultural fair on a farm.

Even after the great success of the 2007 fair, the future looked bleak. Volunteers were worn out from chairing multiple committees, organizing too many details and running top speed in too many directions. During the winter Shea and then co-president Dave Pritchard came up with a thorough list of positions that had to be filled with committed volunteers, if the fair were to go on.

Shea compiled an enormous e-mail address list comprised of anyone and everyone who had ever worked at the fair, expressed an interest in the fair or had been suggested as a likely prospect for potentially volunteering. She sent a pleading e-mail for help, reworded it and sent it again and yet again. Only a few people responded. Those interested were asked to attend the January fair meeting. The board of directors went to the meeting disheartened, planning to take the first steps toward dissolving the fair.

But much to everyone's delight and surprise, droves of people found their way to the rather obscure location of the meeting. The group went through the long list of jobs - chairs, co-chairs and helpers. Shea and Pritchard made clear that each and every position had to be filled by the end of that meeting, if the 2008 fair were to become a reality. Slowly every position had a chair and a co-chair, except one - the fair queen pageant. There was silence. A debate rose. Was it important or even necessary to continue the fair queen tradition? Yes, Shea said, it is critical because the fair queen represents the Unionville fair on the state level.

Finally from the crowd came a woman's voice, Shea remembered. "I'll save the queen!" The woman received a standing ovation and the fair was salvaged.

"It was so heartwarming. I almost cried. It had finally sunk in. Folks who didn't even know each other were offering help one another," she said.

But, the lack of volunteers was not the only issue at stake. A new location had to be found. Since its inception the fair has been held at the Unionville schools. For many years now it has been held at Unionville High School. Had the referendum to expand the high school been passed by voters, long lasting construction would have forced the fair to find a new location. It is still a possibility.

Musser spoke to Dixon Stroud, owner of Landhope Farms and the Willowdale Steeplechase property adjacent to the high school. "He was very interested in the fair because of what it stands for - agriculture and open land. And, he loves that he has the land there that can be used for various things. He's a conservationist. He's interested in the fair because its about agriculture; it's not a carnival," she explained.

A deal was struck, and plans for the 2008 Unionville Community Fair hosted by Landhope Farms officially could be made.

The fair will utilize the two barns on the property and tents will be erected - including a dining tent that will double as the main hub for the event. With the wide expanse of property, every aspect of the fair will be more visible and more accessible. For the first time, the horse show will be held on the fair grounds during the fair. Shea said UnionvilleChadds Ford School District superintendent Sharon Parker has offered a school stage for the fair queen contest.

The new fair dates, a week earlier than in the past, should help boost attendance. The district schools will not be closed and therefore families who usually go away for the long weekend will be in town. The fair weekend also coincides with Chester County Day, celebrated in this area this year. Shea said it bodes well that the organizers of Chester County Day have long contended their weekend is the best fair weather weekend of the season.

The hours of the fair have been trimmed down. Entries will be taken Wednesday evening. Judging will take place Thursday. The fair will be open Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. and on Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The horse show will begin at 10 a.m. Sunday. Exhibits will be picked up at 4:30 p.m. The auction will be held Sunday at 5:30 p.m.

What have not changed are the beloved tried and true traditions of the Unionville Community Fair - the events that include the cow milking and lip-synching contests, as well as the family dance. The story telling tent will be in place. The Hadley Memorial Fund is considering an Animal Planet program this year. There will be more room for livestock - the usual milking cows and beef cattle, as well as llamas and perhaps goats, pigs and sheep. Organizers also hope to have large farm equipment on display.

As a fund-raiser to benefit the fair, Wiggens Auto Tags will bring its document shedding truck to the fair on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. People can drive up with their shreddable documents and pay by the pound to have them discreetly shredded.

A new location will add new line items to the bottom line - the costs of tents, portapotties and still unknown costs. Musser said, "We're not as financially secure as we'd like to be."

While the fair has been held on school district property all these years, the district does not support it financially. It is a community fair.

"We need the support of the community and local businesses through advertising, sponsorship, manpower or goods and services that they can provide in return for a presence at the fair. We want people to know it's their fair. It's the community's fair," Shea said.

Many volunteers are still needed. For more information, visit the Web site www.ucfairinc.org or send e-mail to volunteers@ucfairinc.org.

New volunteers and a new location have breathed new life into the Unionville Community Fair, Musser said. "It's given us a chance to get excited about it again." u To contact Prue Osborn, email prueosborn@gmail.com.

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