Fair board director shares love and grit of the job

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Jan Solomon

CORTLAND, Ohio — Driving across the Trumbull County Fairgrounds in a golf cart, Jan Solomon doesn’t get very far before she has to stop.

Someone is looking for directions, someone else wants to know what time an event starts, and a 4-H member is eager to tell Solomon of the success they had at that day’s show.

Those are just a few of the things that get brought to the attention of this 30-year senior fair board director, who showed sheep here in her youth, and has been helping other youth ever since.

“I firmly believe that junior fair and junior fair boards are the best semi-controlled learning labs for kids,” said Solomon. “You’re teaching them how to cope under stress and how to do businesslike things and how to work with money.”

On the back seat of her golf cart is Riley Boggess, a 13-year-old and member of the junior fair board, who follows Solomon around the grounds to make sure everything is running as it should. Boggess has about five more years to participate, but said she’s already learning important skills like being responsible, taking care of her animals and learning from the more experienced directors, like Solomon.

“You learn everything like that — being responsible and who you should become as a person,” Boggess said.

One of the projects Boggess helped with this year was fundraising, and selling special T-shirts to promote the fair. This year’s theme was “Christmas in July,” and Boggess had a big hand in helping get the word out.

Early start

For Solomon, each fair day begins at about 6 a.m., two hours before the fair officially opens. One of the first things she does is water the plants, and make sure the buildings and grounds look presentable. As a supervisor on the Trumbull Soil and Water Conservation District — conservation is important to her.

Trumbull County Fair sheep
Sheep entries about to sell at the Trumbull County Fair.

She has worked over the years to help improve the water drainage at the fair, and encourage exhibitors not to dump wastewater and manure down the stormwater drain. Solomon likes a clean fair, and one that is environmentally friendly.

Her own children showed here when they were kids, Rudy III, and Kari Solomon. Her grandson, Rudy IV, could show here someday as well, and Solomon is committed to making sure the fair has a bright future.

She recalls the success of one 4-H member in particular, who went on to become Miss Ohio. Others have excelled, as well — putting the skills they’ve learned to good use.

Enforcing the rules

Solomon rarely finds herself having to discipline a member or a fair visitor, but it does happen. In a few cases, she’s had to dismiss someone’s project because it was unhealthy or broke fair rules.

Each year there are issues — sometimes complaints — that have to be weighed and listened to. Solomon tries to be understanding, and to find a good resolution.

“To them, it’s a big crisis and a big situation,” she said. “You have to listen to them and respond to them.”

Solomon was once a foreman for Packard Electric, where she said she learned what it’s like to be under the gun from multiple directions.

“When you pretty much think you’ve seen it all — there it is again,” she said.

Some of her favorite days at the fair are the sheep show, on Wednesday, and also Thursday, when she gets to help with the carcass judging contest and work inside the meat cooler. Saturday is one of the most hectic days, because so much is going on at the same time.

Solomon lives about 16 miles from the fair, in Lordstown, and she chooses to camp on the grounds during the week. The days are long and tiring, and cutting out the commute home helps save some energy.

“There is no sleeping in, and by 11 p.m., I am ready to drop into the camper and I don’t hear anything until 6 a.m.,” she said.

Fair improvements

This year’s fair saw some 90-degree days, but fairgoers had a new place to enjoy the shade, thanks to a large, 84-foot-long pavilion constructed just days before the fair. Solomon was one of the project’s supporters, and said it offers some shade for performers and for visitors.

Solomon keeps a close eye on fair attendance, which this year was up over last year, until the very last day. The attendance is important, because when it comes down to it, the fair is a business that has to pay its bills. She figured that with the strong attendance, the board might be able to pay off a couple loans.

Staying sharp

During the off-season, Solomon and the other board members meet about once a month, and they also attend the Ohio Fair Managers Association annual conference in Columbus, along with members of the junior fair board.

The annual meeting provides a place to learn and exchange ideas — on everything from fair improvements to security, liability and insurance.

She also helps advise a 4-H club that she started more than 40 years ago, known as Trumbull’s Best Shepherds.

Although sheep are her personal favorite, the fair has seen an increase in beef and dairy projects in recent years. Over the years, Solomon said she’s learned to embrace change, and to do whatever is needed — even if it’s something different than she expected.

“You just do what you need to do,” she said. “Over the years, it’s kind of like you put down what you really like to do and accept what they really want you to do.”

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