Despite financial gloom, sunny forecast gives hope to Litchfield Fair organizer

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Litchfield Fair Second Vice President James Campbell, left, and First Vice President Dick Brown hang netting at the Litchfield Fairgrounds on Wednesday. (Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal)

LITCHFIELD — The organizers of the Litchfield Fair have been looking for good news since the recent discovery that $120,000 was missing from their books.

With the agricultural fair set to run from Friday to Sunday, they may have found some: After a stretch of hot, humid weather interspersed with occasional rain, the National Weather Service is forecasting clear, mild skies for the weekend.

“We’re excited about that,” said Charlie Smith, the fair’s president, who has noted the importance of ticket sales to its bottom line. “The prospects look good.”

Smith expects the fair to run as it always has, with the usual assortment of livestock and vehicle competitions, carnival rides, fried food and musical performances.

It comes as the fair’s parent organization, the Litchfield Farmers’ Club, still reels from the discovery that thousands of dollars went missing from its accounts. On Aug. 23, police charged the group’s former treasurer, 36-year-old Ryan A. Beaudette of West Gardiner, with taking more than $10,000 from the club.

The total loss is actually around $120,000, according to Smith. And that doesn’t include at least $10,000 in bills that went unpaid.

While the discovery of the missing funds was shocking to the fair’s officers, Smith said that it’s also reminded them how much the event is appreciated in the community.

The number of people who have volunteered to help run the fair is up this summer — Smith wasn’t sure by how much — and financial contributions have poured in to ensure the fair takes place as scheduled.

“We’ve done pretty well and would certainly like to the thank” the businesses and people that have donated, he said.

Donations that have come in will cover the startup costs for the fair to open as planned Friday. Smith said donations topped $30,000 and were working their way toward $40,000, though he didn’t have exact figures when reached Thursday at the fairgrounds.

“The donations have done a great deal,” he said. “They mean we can meet our obligations for paying contracts for vendors.

“Also, to have cash for the gates,” Smith added. “That takes quite a lot of money right there.”

Benjamin Peaslee, left, Jeana Wilson and her husband, Edson, clean a food stand at the Litchfield Fairgrounds on Wednesday. (Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal)

Proceeds from the fair, he said, will start filling up the bank accounts that were allegedly drained by Beaudette. That will help fund next year’s event and scholarships, and replenish savings and capital project money for the fair.

“As has been printed before, we had some savings accounts, a scholarship account,” Smith said. “We had money to replace our cafe building that we also used as a reserve fund. Our goal is to rebuild those savings accounts to get back to where we were before this all happened.”

One way the group will be able to recoup its losses is through ticket sales. Smith didn’t have a projected dollar amount, nor could he offer past ticket sales figures from the fairgrounds Thursday.

“The amount varies year to year,” he said.

About 15,000 people typically come through the gate each year, Smith said, but how much that will generate in revenue “all breaks down to whether kids or adults come.”

“We’re looking forward to good, fair weather” to boost attendance, he said. “It’s very important this year, for sure. We would like to see as many people come as possible.”

Despite the challenges, the show will go on at the Litchfield Fairgrounds, on 44 Plains Road. It will open early Friday morning with pig races and a steer pull, and end Sunday afternoon with balloon twisting, a pig scramble, a butter-making demonstration, and other activities.

Besides the usual offerings, the fair’s organizers also have made some additions to the program, all happening on Saturday.

At 3 p.m., there will be a two-hour demonstration by a Maine wrestling group, called Limitless Wrestling. At 6:15 p.m., fairgoers will be able to control a larger version of the kid’s toy Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, in which robots are made to box each other. At 9 p.m., the fair will hold a fireworks show for the first time in several years.

There will be an apple pie contest Friday afternoon and a so-called “Redneck Truck Pull” in the evening, among other events. Saturday’s offerings will include horse and woodsmen competitions in the morning and a magician performance early in the afternoon. On Sunday, there will be a goat show and demolition derby in the morning and an antique car parade at noon.

There will also be recurring events throughout the fair, including free bicycle drawings and an interactive agricultural learning center for kids.

Smith is hopeful it won’t take long to rebuild the fair’s coffers.

“That’s a good question. The way the individual was siphoning money off, I’m not sure we had good numbers the last couple years,” he said. “It’s hard to say, but in a couple years we should be back to where we want to be — if we have a good couple of seasons.”

Capital improvements, notably for the cafe building on the fairgrounds, have been a goal for a number of years, Smith said. If the money hadn’t disappeared from the accounts, he said, the organization could have done the work now.

“We haven’t had current estimates, but its been in the works for a while,” he said. “We thought we were gaining all the time, but obviously that was not the case.”

As for when capital projects work might take place, Smith is unsure. After this year’s fair is complete, officers will have a better grasp of the financial picture going forward.

Also unknown is whether other fundraising events will take place to help the fair group recoup its losses.

“Some people have stepped up and offered things; there is one event I think that’s going to happen,” Smith said. “We do close the fairgrounds up in mid-October for the winter and put vehicles in storage. A lot would depend on when people wanted to have things (fundraising events).”

Asked if the club had any concerns about asking people for donations, Smith said it was something they were encouraged to do by their attorney.

“There wasn’t any reservation about asking with what we were facing,” he said. “We were told it (the fair) probably wouldn’t happen without donations.”

While Smith said the amount of donations has been a surprise, he said he “knew all along, personally, the Litchfield Fair was pretty special.”

“It’s proof to me the fair means a lot to people in the community and the surrounding towns,” Smith said. “It’s good to have that feeling, to have that support.”

For more information and a schedule, visit www.litchfieldfair.com.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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