In the fall of 1849, a group of Flint area citizens gathered for a trip to Detroit to experience a new and exciting event known as the Michigan State Fair. Little did they know they would witness the first state fair in America! What they observed was a place on common ground where people socialized and were entertained in a family atmosphere but, at the same time, were educated. They were so impressed by the ambiance and environment that they returned home determined to do the same for Genesee County the following year.
Since that first year, the Genesee County Fair has preserved most of the original elements, such as the ever popular 4-H and animal exhibitors, rodeo, musical acts, carnival food and family entertainment venues. The fair is produced by the Genesee County Agricultural Society, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization comprising community members. The organization’s mission is to provide fun, safe, accessible activities that promote and educate the community.
Chris Miller is the executive director of the Genesee County Fair and for the past 22 years has conducted the day-to-day operations, carried out the direction of the fair’s 12-member volunteer board of directors as well as supervised the event’s volunteers. Miller was exposed to the fair at a very early age as both a competitive exhibitor and an attendee. He credits that exposure and those memories as providing the compass that has guided many of his decisions on behalf of the fair and sees the fair as having a multifaceted community impact.
“Above all, we strive to have a strong focus in providing fun, safe, and accessible activities that promote and educate the community in agriculture, the arts and sciences,” he states. “For our 4-H livestock exhibitors, the Fair provides an opportunity to learn personal responsibility and money management skills necessary to raise an animal that can be sold at the annual 4-H Livestock Auction, thereby raising the money to cover the rising cost of attending college.” He adds that for many members of the community, this event provides the greatest forum to showcase their accomplishments by participating in the many competitive exhibit programs.
“THE VOLUME OF CITIZENS OF OUR COMMUNITY WHO HAVE MADE THE DECISION TO GROW THEIR OWN FOOD IS ASTOUNDING, AND THE FAIR INTENDS TO CONTINUE BEING A VITAL PART OF THAT PHENOMENON MOVING FORWARD. ”
– CHRIS MILLER –
However, Miller notes the fair also incorporates entertainment as a proponent of its objective of providing agricultural education, “with the notion that some people, who do not necessarily come from an agricultural background, will come to the fair for entertainment and coincidentally and unintentionally stumble upon agriculture during their visit,” he points out. He believes the fair provides its greatest impact by educating. Finally, the fair provides an economic boost because of its broad appeal to both day and multiday visitors to the area.
The challenge for the fair’s future success is to clearly reflect the needs and desires of the community while staying true to its purpose and reflecting the people of Genesee County. Miller sees the fair strengthened by the fresh food movement and similar initiatives of Genesee County residents who are taking a greater interest in learning where their food comes from.
“At no time in the history of our industrialized nation have members of society taken a greater interest in the quality of the food they consume,” he says. “The volume of citizens of our community who have made the decision to grow their own food is astounding, and the fair intends to continue being a vital part of that phenomenon moving forward.”
John R. Gazall, AIA, NCARB, current president of Gazall, Lewis & Associates, Architects, Inc. in downtown Flint has been attending the fair since the mid- 1980s, when his father was the fair board president and together they attended the fair yearly. Gazall joined the fair board in 1999 as a board director and has since participated in several committees within the fair. He sees the fair working to ensure an element of its future by continuing with the development of its own fairgrounds.
“Several years ago, the fair purchased property on Mt. Morris Road just west of the current location [6130 E. Mt. Morris Road],” he notes. “As fundraising efforts have started, the goal for the fair is to develop and eventually move to an active fairground to better serve the community.”
Miller and Gazall agree the secret to the fair’s success is the commitment, support and dedication of its 400+ volunteers, a group of hardworking, communityoriented people who want the success of the fair to continue and appreciate family fun and education.
“To this day, I still enjoy walking the fairground as much as I did in the mid- 1980s,” Gazall reflects. “The Genesee County Fair is an event where family memories are made.”