Fun central: Chowan Regional Fair opens
By Miles Layton
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
EDENTON — The smell of fried food in the air Tuesday evening at the Chowan County Regional Fair was just too good for Gary Lico and wife Annette Bergh to pass up.
The couple, who just moved to Hertford from Connecticut about five months ago, decided to have fair food for dinner, purchasing a plate of barbecue and fries.
“This fair is great,” Bergh said. “We are really excited about going to a county fair. We love small-town living. That's why we came down.”
Lico and Bergh were among the area residents who turned out on the opening day of the 71st annual Chowan County Regional Fair. The event, which continues through Saturday night, is held at the American Legion Fairgrounds in Edenton.
While the fair includes plenty of food and mechanical rides, its large number of exhibits continue to be a popular draw.
“We have about 1,800 exhibits,” said Brenda (Perry) Toppin, secretary of the Chowan County Regional Fair Board of Directors. “Our exhibitors have come from 12 surrounding counties, Virginia and everywhere. There is something for everyone and as always, it is a family affair.”
Toppin knows first hand about the fair being a family tradition: hers has been a part of the event for decades. For starters, Toppin's father was W.A. Perry, whose name is blazoned on the fair's main building. Meanwhile her husband, E.C. Toppin, the fair’s manager.
Brenda Toppin herself has been attending the fair since she was in diapers.
“The day our fair opened, I was about a year old,” Toppin said. “I've been going to the fair for 70 years — never missed one.”
Among the attractions at this year’s fair is the return of a giant train display. It’s called the LED Railroad Circus and operated by Eddie and Lisette Diehl. The Kid Popular Marionettes are also back after a three-year absence with a whole new act. Macnally's Pig Racing also is returning for a second year, along with a new bike stunt show by CW Trials.
Crafts are also a big part of the Chowan fair. Carved wooden keepsakes and painted landscapes are as common as cotton candy and corn dogs.
“I've been entering crafts since I was a child in 4-H,” said Debra Phelps, a retired home economics teacher who volunteers her time at the fair. “For me, the fair experience is about crafts — sewing — food and friends. It's a lot of fun.”
Volunteers are essential to the fair's operation because somebody has to do X, Y and Z to make sure that everyone has a good time.
“It takes a village to make this look so easy,” Toppin said as she toured the exhibits. “One woman – Sherri Volk – she volunteered for a long time at the fair before she moved to Michigan, but she came back just to volunteer for the fair. That's saying something.”
Though Josie Perry is officially known as the fair's graphic artist, she wears many hats. Tuesday, Perry was walking around various venues to answer vendors' questions and make sure everyone was ready.
“I do what I can to help everybody,” she said. “The fair is a tradition for Chowan County. I've been going since I was in high school when our whole family went to the fair. I have a lot of good memories. I've met a lot of people and made new friends.”
Many of the fair's gravity-defying mechanical rides feel like they can bend time and space.
“I love riding the Delusion because it makes you feel sick,” said Kennedy Moody, 17, of Belvidere, referring to one of the fair’s popular rides.
Moody's friend, Jennifer Collins, 16, of Edenton, added, “I like the Dreamcatcher because it spins around. I always try to ride it.”
Moody and Collins, both juniors at John A. Holmes High School, agreed that the fair is where most of their friends and classmates will be this week.
“This is the place to be, to make friends, to meet people and hang out with friends,” Moody said.
Collins said, “Most everyone from Holmes — probably at three-quarters of the student body — will be here.”
Like Toppin, both Moody and Collins have been attending the fair since they were little.
“This should be a good fair and I love seeing the animals,” Moody said as she talked about the turkeys she raises for competition.
Bergh and Lico also entered competitions at the fair and did well.
“I entered needlepoint and won first prize,” Bergh said.
Lico said his four photographs captured four first-place blue ribbons.
Toppin suggested it’s people like Bergh and Lico who help the fair survive, thrive and prosper.
“The best thing about the fair is the people such as those who bring in the entries or first-time fairgoers — all the people who come,” she said. “This fair is about our community.”