By Shelley Grieshop
It's hot and muggy in the entertainment tent Thursday afternoon and Barb Pierce is trying to keep the senior citizen program moving along.
Many of the 250 men and women in attendance fan themselves with anything handy as Pierce calls out the number of the next door prize winner.
"It's pretty hot in here today," she says, wiping sweat from beneath a funky hat creatively made from a green frisbee, silk rose and whacky hairpiece.
It was senior citizen's day at the fair and the fifth consecutive year that Pierce -- one of 18 fair board directors -- coordinated special events geared for the elder members of the county. Activities began with a ventriloquist show, followed by a demonstration by 4-H children and their rabbits, then lunch -- all free to seniors. Next a king and queen were chosen and 50 door prizes awarded.
Today, Pierce will coordinate a similar program for nursing home residents who attend the 153rd banner fair. And she'll do it all from her cherry red Bruno scooter that keeps her moving up and down the midway. Her legs no longer handle the job. "It all started with a spider bite back in '83," says the Montezuma resident.
She incurred ongoing problems from the insect bite to her leg. Then in 1997 she suffered complications from surgery that left her unable to balance herself properly when she walked. Most of the time she uses a walker.
"But that would be nearly impossible out here," she says glancing around the fairgrounds.
Pierce has spearheaded the senior citizen's day programs since 2001, the year after the death of her husband, Rex, who also was a fair director.
"I asked to be appointed after Rex died, to take over where he left off," she says.
Rex Pierce was a fair board director for eight years before suffering an aneurysm while operating the family's concession stand the last day of the fair in 2000.
"He was very dedicated," says his widow.
As fair director, she also coordinates the placement of vendors, "you can't have five elephant ear stands together," she says grinning. And she helps set up the agricultural, flower and domestics displays on the fairgrounds.
Mercer County Fair Board Secretary Denise Cummings says Pierce works with a very minimal budget -- $300 -- to pull off the activities for the seniors. Today's event is expected to draw more than 100 people.
"She's amazing, I really don't know how she does it," Cummings says.
Pierce admits much of the work is done long before the fair opens.
"I shop for bargains," she says grinning. "I beg and I beg and watch for sales. You have to ask for deals; we've got some pretty generous people in the community."
Mild sunburn shows on her nose and cheeks as another woman heads toward her with a small plate of cookies wrapped in cellophane. The woman asks where to place the homemade treats for the senior cookie contest.
"Oh, here will do," Pierce says, pointing to a nearby table.
As the woman leaves, Pierce explains how the cookie baking event was supposed to be canceled this year but appeared in the fair book by error. Not wanting to disappoint any cookie bakers, she speeds away to find a judge with a sweet tooth.