CANTON, Ohio — In 1850, Jacob Schwartz helped to start the Stark County Agricultural Society, and the organization scheduled the first Stark County Fair in October.
Nearly 160 years later, Schwartz’s great-great-grandson, Charles Swartz of Canton, Ohio, was inducted into the Ohio Fair Association’s Hall of Fame.
Charles’ passion for the fair began in 1937, when he started helping his uncle, who showed Belgian horses.
In 1939, Charles talked his father into letting him and his younger sister exhibit steers at the fair.
“Dad made us work with those steers every Sunday and practice leading them,” Charles recalls. “Our steers were always the tamest ones at the fair.”
Back then, everyone packed a picnic lunch in the trunk of their cars.
“We’d split up in the morning, but we’d all meet back at the car to eat,” he said. “You can still find one or two families doing that today.”
Charles has such a love for the Stark County Fair and the history of the area that he has started collecting books and artifacts.
In one of his books about Stark County history, he has a page marked about his great-great-grandfather, Jacob Schwartz.
One of his most prized possessions is a photo of the old grandstand, before it burned in 1927. A new grandstand was built just a year later and remains a major part of the fairgrounds today.
A more recent find was a daily fair program from 1889 that he picked up a flea market.
He also possesses a silver cup, a first place award, presented to his grandfather for showing cattle.
Charles said he never had much luck with receiving prizes or ribbons until 1950 — his last year as an exhibitor — when his steer was named grand champion.
The title earned him recognition and an unexpected request. Two county commissioners and an auctioneer asked Swartz to serve on the fair board.
Although Charles was up for the challenge, he lived in a district that already had a member represented.
Nine years later, Charles was able to fill an open position and became a fair board member.
“They had wanted to get some young blood,” he said. “Now here I am, old blood, and have been serving since 1959!”
Throughout his years on the fair board, Charles was a visionary.
He worked to improve fair programs and draw in new people. In 1964, he organized the first tractor pull.
“Other people on the board told me, ‘You can’t do that,’” he recalled. “And I said, ‘Watch me.’”
Swartz believes the opposition helped him do the best job he could.
“I can get a lot of things done if you challenge me,” he said.
Charles also believes he’s been successful, both on the farm and with the fair, because of the support of his wife, Jean.
“She’s behind me, no matter what — at least most of the time,” he said.
Although Charles and Jean did not meet at the fair, they did get to know one another through another common activity for rural youth — square dancing.
“I had to marry her because when I danced with another girl, she would come up and kick me in the shin,” Charles said.
Today, Charles and Jean are the parents of three sons and a daughter, and they have six grandchildren. Two members of the family serve on the Stark County Fair Board along with Charles.
Son David Swartz has served on the fair board for 12 years, and he was a member of the junior fair board, which Charles helped to start, for 10 years prior.
For David and his siblings, being involved with the fair began at an early age.
“Mom used to drag us out there before we could even walk,” he said. “She used to pull us around in a wagon all over the fairgrounds.”
The other family member on the fair board is Charles’ grandson, Aaron Tournoux.
Although the three men live only a few miles from one another, they all belong to different districts, allowing them to all serve on the board at the same time.
“We ought to be able to control the vote pretty soon,” joked Charles.
Charles and his family take great pride in serving on the fair board, especially because they are the only full-time farmers who are members.
And although there have been other multi-generational families involved with the fair, Charles said his family is unique.
“We’re the first family to have three members on at the same time,” he said. “That’s really something.”
Although a few health problems may have slowed Charles down for this year’s Stark County Fair, he’s certainly not stopping.
You will find him getting the track ready for the 4-H and draft horse shows and the bull riding contest.
And, of course, he will be helping with the tractor pull.