Eugene Weekly : 7.12.07

Oregon Country Fair 2007

Fair-ly Important Movers and Shakers in the Country Fair Family
A Decade of Peace and Community Chela Mela, Altared Space and Library celebrate the big 1-0
Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine Energy Park at the Country Fair
Growing Up at the Fair Advice from an expert
Living Large
Walking on cloud nine … feet above the ground
Heart First, Music Second
Folk musician Peter Thompson gives back through music
Spoken Word Program
Wavy Gravy

Movers and Shakers in the Country Fair Family
By Vanessa Salvia 

You’ve seen them in the grocery store, the bank and at restaurants. They go about their lives doing seemingly normal things, just like you do, but you know there’s something a little different about them. Those bright tie-dyed shirts with the peach logo give them away every time: they’re Oregon Country Fair staff and volunteers. But who are these people when they’re not organizing the VegManEC crew or spraying dust on the trails, skin glittering with pixie dust, fairy wings flapping? Eugene Weekly talked to a few long-time fair folk; these are people who have been with the fair from the beginning or nearly so, keeping things running smoothly so you can have a magical weekend. 



Suzi Prozanski and her husband, Democratic State Senator Floyd Prozanski, moved here from Texas in 1984. “At first people told us we should go check out the Albany Timber Fest, so we did that for the July 4th weekend, our first July 4th here in Oregon,” Prozanski says. “It was pretty interesting. It was sort of like a rodeo for loggers from our point of view, but it was too much like what we saw in Texas. Then someone said, ‘Oh, you should go to Renaissance Fair’ [as OCF was known then].” The couple had been to Renaissance fairs in Texas and thought they knew what to expect.

“We got on the bus with everyone else and rode out there and went, ‘Oh my gosh! This is wonderful! This is different!'” she remembers. “I fell in love with the new vaudeville shows in particular and the crafts and the magic of the whole event, and we went back the next two days.” In 1989 Suzi began working at Gil Harrison’s pottery booth [see Gil’s profile below] and was able to “sleep over.” She joined the Information Crew in ’93, and for the past three years has been editing and writing for the fair’s newsletter, Fair Family News.

Now, Prozanski is the fair’s “accidental archivist,” as she continues working on an oral history of the fair. Since 2000 she has conducted more than 200 interviews, collected all but two issues of Fair Family News and spent countless hours doing newspaper research. Though it may take a few more years, Prozanski plans to compile the research into a book. “It’s a little overwhelming, and at the same time it’s delightful and fun and interesting,” she says. “Going that far back in peoples’ memories, 40 years ago, and trying to tie dates and times and pieces of facts together with what people remember is a challenge. But it’s just been a delight to meet all the interesting people that I’ve been able to meet through the interviews. I fall in love with every one of them. A lot of love goes into this event!”



Gil and Kassey Dagget (a former Slug Queen) at the 2006 Fair.

Ever thought about who to thank for the fact that there are plenty of rolls of toilet paper in the fair port-a-potties? Gil Harrison had something to do with that.

Harrison attended the very first fair and then set up his booth selling pottery the second year. “Somewhere in the middle of the ’70s,” Harrison began staffing an information booth, which was across the path from his pottery booth. “[Fair] wasn’t near as big as it is now,” he says, “and I was able to go back and forth to the information booth if someone stopped with a question. It got more complicated, so I gave up my pottery booth for a while.”

Harrison worked his way up to Information Coordinator and then Admissions Coordinator back when the fair still took money at the gate. Harrison noticed that there was a lack of attention to some basic needs, like toilet paper. “No one was paying attention to how much we had and where it was,” says Harrison. “Or matching the number of batteries with the number of flashlights, things like that. Back then, the person who complains or gripes or whatever the loudest became in charge, so I became the first Quartermaster, to keep track of what the fair needed and what the fair had and find them.”

After doing that for several years, “and versus getting burnout,” he says, he resumed his pottery booth, which he has kept ever since. In the early ’80s Harrison founded one of the first marimba bands in town, called Shumba. Soon Shumba began performing at the fair. “There were a few times that I was up there on Main Stage playing music, and doing my booth, and running around to the different stages doing music,” he says. “I didn’t sleep much during those fairs. It sure was fun though!”



The first fair that Rhys Thomas can recall being at was in 1970. “I asked my parents if they’d been to the 1969 fair and they didn’t remember, so they probably did [go]!” he jokes. Thomas has attended the fair every year from first grade, “since pretty much when it started.” His parents ran The Hilltop Bakery, a popular booth for coffee and sweet treats that still exists. “You meet everybody when you’re at a popular booth,” Thomas says. “I grew up watching the Karamazovs and Avner and all the acts and eventually I became one.” In 1987, Thomas became a professional juggler and was Artist in Residence at the Smithsonian in the ’90s. His “Science Circus” show teaches physics using circus tricks.

For four years Thomas has helped run The Midnight Show, the late night Saturday show for booth people and the staff. “I’ve got this quirky rep of being a responsible hippie, so they put me in a position of responsibility,” he says. “It’s like, ‘Oh no, I’ve been there long enough to become infrastructure!'”

Thomas’ father is Fire Chief of Veneta, who coordinates with the fair’s Fire Crew. “All levels of my family are involved with the fair,” Thomas says. “My aunt used to have a booth. We have deep tendrils in this event.”

His children, aged 12 and 9, often perform a juggling and magic act on the Daredevil stage. “A couple of years ago, they put me in a box and ran ten swords through it and I vanished,” Thomas says. “To prove their love for me, they brought me back!” Catch Rhys Thomas’ “daredevil comedy” show Jugglemania, at 4 pm Friday, July 13th, at Daredevil Palace.



Mindy Sandford, the city of Veneta’s Accounting Clerk, has coordinated Zumwalt Campground for ten years. Zumwalt is Veneta’s city-sponsored campground, where up to 1200 campers stake out sleeping spots during fair weekend. “There were some bad times for the community before camping was allowed,” Sandford says, “so the city jumped in fifteen years ago and started doing this to help with the impact because there are so many people coming in with nowhere to go.” Zumwalt opens Thursday afternoon and closes at noon on Sunday. Sandford coordinates all the basic needs like toilets and water. She also oversees two food vendors, 24-hour security, portable showers, nightly entertainment for the campers and a shuttle running back and forth from the campground to the fair site.

Sandford has been going to fair ever since it was called the Renaissance Fair. She started taking her 26-year-old daughter when her daughter was 5 and has attended every year since then. “I don’t always get as much time at fair now since I’ve been doing the campground,” she laments. But you can see her every weekend at Zumwalt, making sure everything stays all good. “We try to work real closely with fair and ease the impact, and make sure everything runs smoothly for the weekend,” she says.



Veneta was incorporated as a city in 1962, and the fair came along shortly after. Since then, the city’s fate has been intertwined for better or for worse with the fair and its thousands of fairgoers. For three years Rick Ingram has been Veneta’s City Administrator and has grown to love the fair since relocating to the Willamette Valley from central Oregon. As Veneta’s chief administrator, Ingram partners with the fair to deal with some of the issues that have an impact on the tiny community. Over the years, Veneta and the fair have taken on joint projects, like access issues off the state highway, wastewater disposal issues and wetland protection. “There is a lot of value in working off of each other’s strength,” Ingram says. Future joint projects include a small business entrepreneur program and recreational issues, including hiking trails. Ingram sees the fair’s many artists as a valuable resource to help Veneta expand its small-business economy. “Most successful communities are growing their own,” meaning small businesses, he says, and he thinks the fair can play an important role in that prosperity.

“The challenge [the fair organizers] have is that they create a fairly substantial city when the fair is up and going,” he says. “We will continue to try to explore ways to help them operate that small city from a public safety, public health standpoint. We continue to help each other evolve.”



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