By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – Five weeks before the Kosciusko Community Fair was set to begin, the inevitable became obvious on Monday night.
Already faced with a bleak set of circumstances, the board had continued to plan for a traditional fair until they learned the operator of the midway would not commit to participating in the event scheduled for July 12 to the 18.
After lengthy discussions, the board voted 10-1 on Monday night, June 8, to cancel the community fair.
The move follows suit with several surrounding counties, including the mega-large fair in Elkhart County as well as the Indiana State Fair over concerns with coronavirus.
Decisions by other counties made it more difficult for the midway operators, North American Midway Entertainment, to commit to providing entertainment in Kosciusko County since they depend on other nearby shows as part of their annual summer tour.
Fair board officials, though, admitted that other factors led to the decision, many of which boiled down to public safety.
4-H leaders, under the direction of Purdue Extension, had scaled back operations over concerns with social distancing; The livestock shows were altered significantly and moved up a week; sponsorships had plummeted and food vendors expressed concerns that circumstances beyond their control could lead to being shut down.
Afterward, board president Shane Checketts offered a statement.
“This was not an easy decision,” Checketts said. “I know there’s a lot of people out there who want to see a fair. I know there’s a lot of people who want to see normalcy. I know there’s a lot of people who want something to do. And I would agree with all of them, but at the same time, this decision was made with respect to is it the right thing to do?”
“Is it right for the community? Is it right for any of the vendors coming in that could be exposed? We don’t want exposure to start at the fairgrounds,” he said.
“With the lack of a carnival and 4-H, it would be a challenge to produce a fair that is eventful enough to draw in patrons,” Checketts said during the meeting.
Checketts said they will look at alternative plans that could involve some of the grandstand events, which had included a monster truck show, a demolition derby and a rodeo.
The board will need to schedule a meeting to look into those options, he said.
Fair leaders on Monday had met with Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer to review plans and see where he stood on the issue. Checketts said Thallemer declined to say whether the they should go ahead, saying that decision is in the hands of the fair board.
The board had also planned to seek input from the Kosciusko County Health Department on Wednesday.
Checketts said he learned of the Midway’s decision earlier Monday.
Checketts prodded the board into the discussion as many seemed resistant to even bring up the idea of cancelling the fair until board member Ann Wiesehan spoke via an internet connection. She said she didn’t think there was enough entertainment to bring in a crowd, pointing out that many are still leery of going out into public and that they could not guarantee a safe environment.
Officials spent the last several weeks developing a long list of safety protocols, which would have also driven up costs.
Despite the efforts, officials conceded that maintaining social distancing would be difficult.
“I don’t think there’s any way we can keep people safe here,” said board member Kevin Harris. “It would be just a giant error on our part.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the midway operator.