September 4, 2013

Volunteer recalls six decades of Clinton fair

By Jesse Scardina jscardina@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

CLINTON — The Clinton Lions Agricultural Fair, celebrating its 60th year, has had its share of memories.

click image to enlarge

Jon Whitten speaks about his 60-year involvement with the Clinton Lions Club Fair as the midway is set up on Wednesday.

Staff photo by David Leaming

The Clinton Lions Agricultural Fair Schedule:

Where: 1450 Bangor Road.

Thursday: 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Friday: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Saturday: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Sunday: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission: $5 per person, $14 per carload; children under 12 are admitted free

More information: www.clintonlionsfair.com.

Just ask Jon Whitten; he’s seen them all.

Whitten, 75, has volunteered in one form or another at every fair since the first one in 1954.

While he’d be the first to say even he can’t remember everything that’s happened, admitting “my memory doesn’t last that long,” Whitten has enjoyed watching the four-day event blossom over time.

“When it started, it was just on the baseball field,” Whitten said. Now it has grown to cover more 20 acres.

As a high school junior, Whitten volunteered that first year as a hot dog salesman.

“They probably cost 10 cents, 25 cents maybe,” he said.

Over the 60 years, Whitten has done everything from sell food to announce the parade and horse pulls. For 25 years, he was chairman of the Clinton Lions Club, which organizes the fair.

The Lions Club started the fair in 1954 as a field day to support the High School Athletic Association, as they were in debt $200 for warm-up suits for a basketball team, according to the fair’s booklet. A report sent to Lions International in September 1954 said it held a two-day field day behind Clinton High School and raised more than $600.

In 1962, the Lions Club bought 6 acres on Bangor Road for the fair, about a mile from Clinton’s downtown and two miles from Interstate 95. More land was purchased as the fair schedule grew to the current four days and added horse and mechanical pulling contests, a midway, a diner, a selection of arts and crafts exhibits and other vendors.

Whitten said fair organizers expect around 17,000 people to spend the $5 per person or $14 per carload for the fair this year.

“I’ve always called this Old Home Days,” he said. “People who used to live here plan vacations for the fair and come back for it because they know they’ll see a lot of their friends.”

Whitten, however, has never been able to leave the Clinton fair. Working for the Maine Department of Transportation for 44 years, Whitten spent the first 22 years as a bridge engineer, inspecting bridges throughout the state. Living everywhere from Kittery to Corinth, Whitten always made it a point to come back home for the fair.

“I made arrangements for a vacation for the Clinton fair every year — absolutely,” he said.

The last half of his career, Whitten worked in Fairfield as a division engineer in charge of maintenance for Somerset and Kennebec counties. He now lives in the same house where he grew up — right across the street from the fairgrounds. Whitten appreciated being so close to one of the things he loved most.

“It’s something I’ve always been interested in,” Whitten said about fairs. “People seem to like them or don’t like them. It gets in your blood if you do.”

While the fair has a special place in his heart, the fair culture that central Maine shares is something Whitten enjoys most about the area.

“That’s the nice thing about this part of Maine,” he said. “People like to have local things they can go to and relax and meet the neighbors. I live across the street, so I couldn’t not go to the fair.”

The fair begins Thursday at 3 p.m., with a donkey and mule show starting the events off. Unlimited ride bracelets for the midway will be sold Thursday and Sunday afternoon for $15, The rides will open at 4:30 on Thursday and Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The Maine Dairy Princess and Jr. Princess contest is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday.

On Friday, gates open at 8 a.m., and the fair schedule will feature woodman’s events from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and two horse shows at noon and 3:30 p.m. Horse and tractor pulls will take place at 7 p.m., and fireworks will end the night at 9:30 p.m.

The weekend starts with a breakfast at Lions Diner on the fairgrounds from 6:30 to 9 a.m., followed by a parade through downtown at 10 a.m. The truck and tractor pull and ox pull are scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday, which also will begin with a breakfast, followed by a horse pull at 1 p.m. Midway rides and craft exhibits will open at 11 a.m., and the fair will close at 5 p.m.

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239
jscardina@mainetoday.com

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