That time I served on the Belle Fair Board

Sundi Jo Graham

“Will you join the fair board?” she asked me. “We could really use your help.” 

“Absolutely not!” I replied without a second thought. 

“I’ll give you time to think about it,” she said. 

One thing I’ve learned in my years of being adopted into the Abel family - they don’t really take no for an answer. I reluctantly agreed and told Kaci I would do it only because I loved her. A week later I found myself at my first fair board meeting, hanging out with a diverse group of people, some whom I knew and some whom I didn’t. 

There’s something about a fish sandwich at the Belle Fair that can take you back to your childhood in the first bite. Who knows how many I’ve ordered in my lifetime. White bread wrapped in aluminum foil can quickly put a smile on your face and make the worries of the world disappear for a moment. And when you add the carnival noise in the background as you top it with onions and ketchup, life is good.

I’ve traded dozens of tickets in for that fish sandwich, then went on my merry little way, never thinking another thing about those who served it to me. After all, I was just there to enjoy the fair. It’s amazing what a different viewpoint of things can do for you. Being on the other side of that fish sandwich opened my eyes to a whole new world of just how much work it takes to help others like myself go back to their childhoods as they unwrap that sandwich and bite into the past. 

This I know. I will never take another fair for granted again. As my feet scream for a massage and my gut still tries to digest all the fair food, I am in awe at my fellow board members and teammates. 

I watched them take vacation from work to get to the fairgrounds early each morning to prepare for the day. I swear we unloaded 10,276 ½ boxes of fish sandwiches and hamburgers. And you haven’t lived until you’ve stood and shredded 35 smoked pork butts until you can no longer feel your fingertips. Pulled pork nachos anyone? 

But as I looked around at everyone working together, I was amazed, really. I was just a newbie coming in on the cusp of a lot of changes and I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I saw excited me to serve on a team of such amazing people. 

They laughed. They joked. They worked. They laughed some more. And never once did I see a fellow member seek recognition for their hard work. For every single board member I served alongside, I have nothing but respect for their hard work and determination to make the Belle Fair a success. 

It makes me wonder how many of us live our lives with only one viewpoint, unwilling to embrace change because perhaps we’re afraid of the outcome. I know I’m guilty. 

70 years ago a team of servants just like the ones mentioned above got together and decided to start the Belle Fair. I wonder how many changes they endured over the course of even the first few years. 

As I rode around the fairgrounds with President, Ronnie Terrell, running errands, I asked him how long he’d been serving. I think it was 100 years or something like that. Maybe 35? 

“Wow! I bet you’ve seen a lot of changes, huh?” “Oh ya,” he said, as he pointed to the pavilion. “The Carnival used to be down there.” I wanted to hear more stories, but we got sidetracked. 

Change is inevitable for everyone. When you’re leading others, without change, there is no growth. 

Jack Canfield, co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series says, “Change is inevitable in life. You can either resist it and potentially get run over by it, or you can choose to cooperate with it, adapt to it, and learn how to benefit from it. When you embrace change you will begin to see it as an opportunity for growth.” 

Obviously there is good change and bad change. There are just some changes that simply cannot be embraced, however, like creating different flavors of the Oreo. Why would you mess with the Oreo? 

Though I’ve only served on the Belle Fair Board for a short time, I watched my fellow team members embrace change, even when they didn’t necessarily agree with it. I watched them take suggestions from us newbies. And they gave us suggestions, too. Why? Because it wasn’t about them. It was about serving a community with a 70 year tradition. It was about unity. It was about putting smiles on the faces of little kids on the Ferris wheel and crowning a Queen. It was so kids who’d worked hard all year long raising their livestock could present and sell them. It was about dancing in the front row to “Don’t Stop Believin”. 

Kaci fried up different fish squares prior to the fair to see which had the best meat so we could serve those attending with the best. Bruce Shanks rocked the trophy designs. Jimmy Zumwalt showed up looking like he was ready to join the Circus so he could corral screaming pigs and crying kids in the mud. Every single one of them lived the week out sleep deprived, working in the background to run lunch stands, gates, events, and more. 

As we showed up the following Sunday to clean up the memories made until next year, I was pretty sure I was done being around people for the next 364 days. I wanted to climb on top of the ice cream cooler and sleep. I tried. It was unsuccessful. 

But we did take a break and enjoy ice cream sandwiches for breakfast together as we processed through the last four days. And once again, there was unity. And as they scrubbed the fryers and swept the floors, I was reminded of the power in teamwork. 

I bet more changes will peek their head around the corner. Some are probably good and others not so much. But this I can bet… those necessary changes will be embraced by a team of servants who desire to create memories for 70 more years. 

3500 fish sandwiches + One Ferris wheel + A small town girl living in a lonely world = Priceless. 

See you next year.