Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the Topsfield Fair fairgrounds in the fall to take part in the longest running fair in the United States. With barns, arts and crafts, food vendors, rides, and more, the Topsfield Fair is a staple community event. It supplies people from near and far with a lifetime of memories and enjoyment for more than a week, but not many people understand what it truly takes to create the magic of the Topsfield Fair.
The Topsfield Fair pulls in nearly 700 volunteers year-round in order to run smoothly. Each volunteer is spread across 36 different departments and every year these volunteers continue to come back and give their time to create the Fair experience for visitors.
On August 5th, the Topsfield Fair executive board held their annual volunteer picnic to celebrate the volunteers that continuously come out to make the fair a reality. Though the picnic did not occur last year due to the pandemic, the event has taken place for decades and is a special evening for all those involved in the Topsfield Fair. General Manager of the Topsfield Fair, Jamie O’Brien, expressed his excitement and the importance of getting the volunteers back together after a year apart.
License plates that were advertising the 2020 Fair dates, which was cancelled due to COVID, are displayed by (l-r) Sue Lufkin and Kim Williams both of Essex Ma. Photo by Joe Brown
Voulnteers collect name tags and information at the Voulnteer Appreciation Dinner held at the fairgrounds. Photo by Joe Brown
“They are just terrific, every one of them,” O’Brien said. “These people tonight will come in, and you don’t see any signs on the tables, but they will group together because a lot of these people haven’t seen each other in over a year because of the pandemic. But even on a normal year they are totally thrilled to come in and visit with each other, and that’s exciting.”
O’Brien expressed how the 700 volunteers are passionate and love what they do, and that each year they continue to come back and support the fair with their knowledge and experience.
“Our volunteers have a tendency to be long-time volunteers because again they are very passionate about their own expertise,” O’Brien said. “You could never pay people to be that passionate.”
Topsfield Fair president Bill Fitzgerald addresses the assembled guests. Photo by Joe Brown
For every five years, a volunteer has worked with the Fair, they are acknowledged at the picnic and given a pin to commemorate their dedication. This year the executive board recognized four volunteers who had been with the fair for 50 years and over, one volunteer, Bonnie McLaughlin, who has been with the Fair for 61 years. McLaughlin is the President of Essex County Youth Foundation, where she leads many of the 4H rabbit and cavy programs. She is a beloved member of the Topsfield Fair family and has been involved with the Fair since she was a child.
“To be a volunteer, and we still have volunteers here at the Topsfield Fair, they are caring people,” McLaughlin said. “Overall, to be a volunteer is awesome. And it’s like a big family coming back this year.”
Dinner is served atthe Topsfield Fair Voulnteer appreciation dinner held at the Fairgrounds. Photo by Joe Brown
Forester Tim Clark was one of the volunteers present at the picnic. Clark has been a volunteer at the Topsfield Fair for 38 years, and currently holds the position of Senior Director for the fair. Clark has a deep passion for the fair, and like many volunteers explained that he feels rewarded for his time through the enjoyment of the visitors.
“I am strictly about the fair. I don’t get paid except for the fun I have and the way you get to know people and enjoy it and it’s been a lot of satisfaction for me,” Clark said. “I am a Harvard graduate and I enjoy putting my education to use for the fair.”
Clark feels strongly about encouraging people to come out to the Fair, and the role of the event in the community.
“The fair has become a great tradition. Oldest fair in the country and we love to encourage people to come and see it,” Clark said. “I have had a wonderful time out at the fair and it does more good for more people in this community than they ever realize.”
All proceeds for the volunteer picnic go to different food banks in the area, and over the years they have raised $40,000 to give back to the community. The true magic of the evening, however, lies in the celebration of the people who return year after year to give the community the Fair they know and love. The Topsfield Fair is scheduled to run this Fall from October 1st until October 11th. The volunteers are ready and excited to bring back a normal Fair, and Clark expressed how important it is to remember the work of the volunteers and what they bring to the Fair each year.
“This is our way of saying to them, thank you for what you have done. They come in and each one of them has expertise or something that they really like and are good at and we couldn’t do it without their help, so we appreciate it.”
Photo by Joe Brown