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Keystone residents help keep Clay Fair safe

Keystone Heights resident Rick Bebout is seen with Waste Management staffer Janie Coleman at the Clay County Agricultural Fair. When not helping collect canned food for Clay County pantries, Coleman works with her company’s public contracts.

Keystone Heights resident Rick Bebout is seen with Waste Management staffer Janie Coleman at the Clay County Agricultural Fair. When not helping collect canned food for Clay County pantries, Coleman works with her company’s public contracts.


BY JAMES WILLIAMS
Special to the Monitor

The Clay County Fair opened last Thursday to cold, damp weather, keeping the crowds way down, 4,000-6,000, when organizers normally expect 15,000-19,000.

Never mind.  The weekend was gorgeous and fair-goers came out in droves, 24,000 strong on Saturday; 19,000 on Sunday, a record.

The fair is sponsored and funded by a coalition of public and private sector sources, including larger and smaller businesses from around the county who want their names seen by the over 100,000 fair visitors every year.

Everything from the Florida Department of Agriculture to the Clay County Division of Tourism to the Rheinhold Corporation contributes in some way to the fair, along with VyStar, St. Vincent’s Hospital, the Orange Park Medical Center, and a host of RV dealerships, restaurants, auto shops, dance studios and pottery classes. They all support the fair by buying ad space in the nicely-put-together, 24-page program. There are even a few generous individual contributors with no business ax to grind who also support the fair efforts. There isn’t much visibility from Keystone Heights businesses (or its media), though WEAG radio in Starke and the Bradford Auto Parts Salvage do appear in the fair brochure.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t participation from Lake Region residents in the fair, quite the contrary. The Keystone Heights High School and Lake Region 4-H and FFA programs are a huge presence in the agricultural shows, as are local gardeners, craftspeople, photographers and artists. The Keystone Heights Rotary volunteers to take up tickets, drawing the lot each year on the last night of the college basketball playoffs, (this year sans Gators).

But Keystone residents Rick Bebout and Bill Curtis are among the locals making huge contributions to the fair: Bebout is on the Board of Directors and is director of Health, Safety, Environmental Services and Recycling. Bebout does not inspect the Degeller Atteractions rides, that is done by the company and the State of Florida.

Curtis, his son-in-law, is helping superintend those areas with a crew of about 15 volunteers. Curtis, a firefighter and emergency medical technician, is married to former Keystone Heights City Councilwoman Michelle Curtis.

Last Friday, we tagged along with Bebout as he made his rounds. He wandered through the cattle and swine shows, washed his hands, then stopped for a turkey leg (“It’s the healthiest fair food you can find,” he said, overlooking the terrific roasted ear of corn from the same vendor.)  Then he headed over to watch lawn mower racing, dropped in on the Clay County art and photography show, caught Ron Diamond’s magic and hypnosis act. “He calls this work?” we wondered.

But retracing the tour, we had also seen Bebout test some tanks for water at hand-washing stations near animal cattle and swine exhibits and a petting zoo. As we moved through the crowd, some high school age volunteers pushed large plastic bins through the midway, their bins filled with cardboard boxes that had been broken down for recycling.  Bebout also showed us how he had made and placed the health and safety signs that dot the fair grounds, some of them in two languages, cautioning people to wash their hands after they’ve been inside the stock barns.

Waste Management had also contributed signs reminding visitors to recycle their soda cans. Much of Bebout’s job, in other words takes place before the fair even opens.

He said his volunteers check to make sure the portable and fixed toilets are filled with paper, and watch for cords and cables that present a hazard to the public.

Bebout made a point of dropping in to show his visitor the Rinnai hot water heater, which runs on propane, has no tank, and doesn’t come on until the tap is turned. When that happens, the water runs through a coil; that heats it up before it leaves the spout.  The point is there are no tanks of water to keep perpetually hot. There are reliable estimates that the on-demand hot water systems reduce a home’s electric bill by as much as 30 percent.

Waste Management is a fair sponsor and holds the county contract for exactly what the company name implies. According to the fair’s program, 199.4 tons of trash and garbage was collected over the fair’s 10-day stretch last year, but that was down by 34 percent over previous years, as the fair beefed up its environmental and recycling programs.  In fact, The Clay County Agricultural Fair’s Green program was given a first place award by the International Association of Fairs and Expositions in 2012.

Three hours into our tour of the fair, we were already tired, but Bebout had three more hours to go. During the fair, he lives in his RV, which is parked with a hundred other RVs on the fair grounds.

What goes on after hours at the fair grounds? we asked.  Well, there’s a lot of security with all those kewpie dolls and Sponge Bob Square Pants toys to protect on the midway.

But all those carney types?  “Just about everybody goes back to their trailer and goes to bed.” Bebout said. “First of all, there’s no alcohol allowed, since it’s public property, and besides that, we’re too exhausted to party.”

Keystone residents Wil and Bill Curtis take a break from health and safety duties to watch the Lawn Mower races.

Keystone residents Wil and Bill Curtis take a break from health and safety duties to watch the Lawn Mower races.

Lake Region student Marissa Williams with her heifer Clementine which won reserve grand champion.

Lake Region student Marissa Williams with her heifer Clementine which won reserve grand champion.

Keystone Heights High School FFA member Ryan Oliver gets his 1,323 pound Limosin steer ready for the Clay County Fair steer show, held last Wednesday.

Keystone Heights High School FFA member Ryan Oliver gets his 1,323 pound Limosin steer ready for the Clay County Fair steer show, held last Wednesday.

Betty Jo and Kelly Saunders watch over their son, Austen’s steer at the Clay County Fair.  A math teacher at KHHS, Betty Jo brought her homework along.

Betty Jo and Kelly Saunders watch over their son, Austen’s steer at the Clay County Fair. A math teacher at KHHS, Betty Jo brought her homework along.

Clay County Food Bank volunteer Mike Leo adds cans to the collection at last Monday evening’s Clay Fair food bank drive. Visitors got $1 off the price of a ticket for one can of food.

Clay County Food Bank volunteer Mike Leo adds cans to the collection at last Monday evening’s Clay Fair food bank drive. Visitors got $1 off the price of a ticket for one can of food.

The Lake Region’s Gilstrap family took in the fair.  Shown (l-r) are Ryan, Har-old, Natalie, Sasha and Kim Gilstrap. With armbands, the kids got multiple rides for one low price.

The Lake Region’s Gilstrap family took in the fair. Shown (l-r) are Ryan, Har-old, Natalie, Sasha and Kim Gilstrap. With armbands, the kids got multiple rides for one low price.

Keystone Heights City Manager and Rotary Club member Terry Suggs volunteers at the Clay County Fair.

Keystone Heights City Manager and Rotary Club member Terry Suggs volunteers at the Clay County Fair.

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The newest ride at the fair this year is also the tallest; taking riders 190 feet in the air—and then swings them around.

The newest ride at the fair this year is also the tallest; taking riders 190 feet in the air—and then swings them around.

The fair lights up as the sun goes down.

The fair lights up as the sun goes down.

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