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Deerfield native David O’Neal resumes role running Deerfield Fair

David O'Neal, the new president of the Deerfield Fair, poses for a portrait; Thursday, March 28, 2013.

(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

David O'Neal, the new president of the Deerfield Fair, poses for a portrait; Thursday, March 28, 2013. (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

David O’Neal is pretty sure he’s never missed a year of the Deerfield Fair, and he’s not about to start. O’Neal served as president of the fair for seven years, from 1998 to 2004, and resumed that post again last month. A lifelong Deerfield resident, the 56-year-old shared what he loves about the fair, and why he keeps coming back for more.

What drew you back to this position?

I needed a break for a while. Different things happened in my life and now I just wanted to get back. I always miss it when I’m not involved. It’s different when you’re not involved for a while, you wanna know what’s going on and you don’t know as much.

What is your favorite part about serving as president?

Meeting people. All the patrons coming in, I enjoy that. Talking with people. You get to meet all kinds. Some are good, some bad, but you get to see them all. . . . I’ve met people when I was younger, like this one guy in Kansas City, Missouri, he asked where I was from and I told him Deerfield, New Hampshire. He’d been to the fair. A lot of people love the fairs.

Is the fair a family affair for you?

I’m like fifth generation working here, my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles. My mother still runs the flower building, and now my granddaughter goes to the fair.

Do you farm?

I own an automotive repair shop. My daughter owns a farm. We’ve always had animals and stuff like that, but to be a full-time farmer, no, it’s not what I really wanted to do.

What was the first thing you did once you resumed the presidency? Did you set yourself a first task to accomplish?

I guess the first thing was I ran an association board meeting. . . . The first task was reviewing the budgets, where we’re at and then start to review contracts.

How much time do you spend working on the fair, each week?

It will vary, maybe 10 to 15 hours a week and some weeks more. These days, we’re working on contracts with vendors, with the people that come in and help put the fair on, parking attendants, tickets. A lot of people think it’s a two-, three-week job, but as soon as the fair ends, we’re starting contacts and preparing for the following year. . . .
It’s fun. It’s different than what you do every day of the week.

Does the president of the fair have anything to do in March, six months before opening day?

Right now we’re doing contracts for vendors and special events. We have seven horse shows that run all year long, and we have the ham radio operators that come in, and we have an antique show. We just got done having our Easter egg hunt. With the snow, it was a little tough but it worked out good. We had a lot of people. The fair’s not just the fair, we do a lot of things through the summer.”

Do those spring and summer events provide the funding for putting on the fair?

They do help raise money. Our taxes alone are like $134,000 for the property. When you figure in taxes and insurances, and insurance has gone up, and the cost for power and fuel and heat has gone up, so we have to keep doing different events to help raise money and be able to do improvements, to make the grounds better for people.

How much does it cost to put on the fair each year?

Truthfully, I wouldn’t dare say how much. If I give you a number, I’d be just pulling something out of the dark because it changes every year, with insurance and all that. Our light bill just for the fair is around $34,000 for a week. That varies depending on all of it. Weather really dictates how you survive. If you get a year like the last

two, three years and you get two, three days of rain, people don’t come and then it’s a lot harder.

What about how much it costs to run the grounds annually?

To run it all year, counting the fair and events and upkeep, we’re looking at around a million dollars.

Why is it important to you to keep the fair going?

The fair is important to keep agriculture going in the state. The state’s kind of fading away from farming and agriculture the more we grow.

The fairs are one of the only places that some young kids can even see the farms and animals. . . . My favorite part is probably walking around seeing the kids, watching the smiles and the eating and watching them eat different stuff. It’s enjoyable watching them laugh.

What do urban or suburban kids get out of seeing agricultural equipment and animals for one day?

I think it gives them an appreciation of what is out there and some things they might be missing. They’re seeing different walks of life for people.

Do you have a goal for the fair this year that you’ve set in your own mind?

My biggest goal would be no rain. . . . I really have no goal set out that we have to get this done or that done. My biggest goal is to keep everybody safe.”

What is the biggest challenge about running the fair?

You have to keep everybody happy.

When you get different walks of life working together, different opinions, you’ve gotta be a mediator.

That sounds like a stressful job to take on, on top of running your own business. Why come back?

It can be stressful, but it can be a lot of really rewarding and satisfying work. It can be fun. Ask me that on a bad day, though, you’d get a different answer.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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