Callaway County Fair under new leadership

After vote of ‘no confidence,’ Fulton Jaycees elect not to renew lease with fair board; club to takeover organizing event

The Fulton Jaycees has announced it will be taking over planning of the county fair next year.

The Jaycees, which owns the fairgrounds where the 60-year-old event has taken place for the past 37 years, sent the Fulton Sun a letter stating that the organization has elected not to renew its annual lease with the Callaway County Fair Board after a unanimous vote of “no confidence.”

“The Fulton Jaycees will be assuming this responsibility by developing committees within the Fulton Jaycee chapter to plan and host The Fulton Jaycees Callaway County Fair in 2015,” the letter states, making note that the Jaycees were the original organizers of the Kingdom of Callaway County Fair before the fair board split off in 1978. “After talking with the public at the 2014 Kingdom of Callaway County Fair we have had to make this hard decision. We, as the Fulton Jaycees, do not wish the 60-year tradition of the Kingdom of Callaway County Fair to suffer further due to an unfortunate recent history of mismanagement.”

According to the letter, the Fulton Jaycees Callaway County Fair will be held July 20-25, 2015.

The fair board issued the following statement when called about the split: “The Kingdom of Callaway County Fair Board will have a press release in the future, but at this time we feel it is too soon in the process to make a formal statement.”

Ashton Meyer, Fulton Jaycees vice president, told the Fulton Sun that the decision to cut ties with the Kingdom of Callaway County Fair Board and take over was not personal.

“We don’t want people to think we’re attacking the fair board; we’re not,” Meyer said. “This isn’t a personal decision, it was a business decision. The fair was at stake, and we had to step in.”

She said the final decision was made after this year’s fair “when the community came to us and said, ‘We don’t like how it’s being done.’”

“What was brought to us the most was people really want to see the kids back,” Meyer said. “We’re going to work with the FFA clubs and 4-H to do an open class. We really want to get that back — without it you rely on vendors and outside events to keep running, and if you can’t manage that properly, it’s not going to work.”

Rift with youth organizations

Asked directly if the split between the fair board and county 4-H/FFA leaders, which led to the creation of the Callaway Youth Expo last year was the reason for the Jaycees taking the county fair out of the fair board’s hands, Meyer said “it was certainly something that raised eyebrows.”

“As an initial event, that opened the community’s eyes — there was obviously something wrong there,” Meyer said. “Our goal is to smooth those issues over.”

Asked if the Jaycee’s intent is to have the youth expo incorporated back into the fair, she said “we’d love to be able to do it all.”

“By do it all, I mean they come back and do what they do best,” Meyer said. “We want them to feel like they have a home at the fair again.”

The letter states the Jaycees have been in contact with individuals to help organize an open class at the fair “and would very much like to see the local FFAs make our fair their home, as well.”

Leaders of the Callaway Youth Expo, contacted to ask whether they would be amenable to such a return, said they have not been approached by the Jaycees and therefore could not comment at this time.

Financial struggles

Meyer said attendance and vendor issues also played a role in the Jaycees’ decision.

“The attendance rates with the events changing and the issues with vendors were going down,” she said. “Vendors were telling us they weren’t going to come back, attendance dropped off significantly each year for the past several years, and it was obvious that was going to continue to decline.”

With the revenues from each year’s fair used to put on the following year’s event, Meyer pointed out the county fair was in big trouble.

Meyer said the Jaycees also received complaints from vendors about breach of contract issues, but said as a third party to those contracts, the Jaycees could not comment exactly what those issues were.

“When it potentially became a legal issue, it was time something was done,” she said.

Community input

According to the letter, the Jaycees “value what the community has to say so we can improve our organization. This year we have heard the community loud and clear so be prepared for big changes in 2015.”

Meyer echoed that statement, adding that the Jaycees is open to help and suggestions from the community as it works to re-invent the 2015 fair.

“Rebuild is the key word here; we’re starting from the ground up. We’re trying to establish new relationships and repair relationships with people separated from the fair,” Meyer said, noting the organization is trying to keep the event “as local as possible” in terms of vendors and events.

“What we really need at this point is to hear from the community what they want, things they would like to see out there. We want the public to feel like they have a say in what happens,” she said. “Anything they want to see at their fair, contact us. We really want them to feel like part of it.”

Anyone with questions, comments or who wishes to volunteer for or sponsor the 2015 fair can contact the Fulton Jaycees at fultonjaycees@gmail.com or P.O. Box 615, Fulton, Mo., 65251.

Correction, posted Aug. 26, 2014: The original version of this article contained an error. The county fair has been in existence for 60 years, but has only been held at the Jaycees’ fair grounds for 37 years as of the 2014 fair. The above text has since been amended to reflect the correct numbers.

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