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Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

Citizens protest beer sales at Mercer fair

Church, 4-H leaders speak at county fair board meeting

By William Kincaid
About a dozen concerned citizens, including 4-H and church leaders, spoke out Tuesday night against the Mercer County Fair Board's plan to sell beer at the fair.
No one spoke in favor of alcohol sales.
Fair board members last month voted in favor of potential alcohol sales at the August fair. Details of a plan, such as having a beer garden or allowing sales in the grandstand, are to be worked out before a final vote is taken.
During a Tuesday night meeting of the board, 4-H Youth Development Director Barbara Phares said she is concerned about the message that would be sent to youth, if beer is sold at the fair.
"It seems that family fun has to be coupled with the need to indulge in alcohol," she read from a written statement. "The message - you have to include drinking in order to have fun. This is not a message we endorse in positive 4-H youth development."
Dick Vantilberg, who has been associated with the fair through 4-H for 46 years, told board members he hated the idea of them selling out to the beer sales option. He said that although he knows generating enough money has always been an issue, he believes the integrity of the board would be at stake if it decides to sell beer.
Rich Field, representing seven churches and the Serving Friends and Families door-to-door ministry in Celina, said his group already deals with the issue of youth and alcohol and thinks beer at the fair would be an unnecessary risk.
"Are there any other positives besides adding money?" he asked.
Field also said he was concerned about "the moral fiber" of the community and how it would be illustrated by alcohol.
Celina High School student Brandon Williams also spoke against beer sales.
"I can assure you children will get a hold of it (beer)," he said. "Is the money really worth a life? ... Accidents will happen. There is no amount of money that is worth a life."
The Rev. Bruce Head, executive director of Harbor House, said he was representing more than 20 churches that are against the idea.
He applauded the few board members who initially opposed the measure. He also pointed out he could have rallied his troops - hundreds of church members - to the meeting if he wanted to.
Others who spoke out at the meeting commented on liability concerns.
Fair board President Steve Seitz told the paper a special beer committee has been established that will eventually make a recommendation - which the board will either approve or reject.
Seitz said no specific details have been determined but said if approved, beer sales would almost certainly be limited to a "beer garden" area.
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