(Posted July 20, 2021)
By Dedra Cordle , Staff Writer
Darrell Champer has always loved attending opening ceremonies at the Madison County Fair.
Though the event is short in duration and minimal in pageantry, what has made it enjoyable to him is seeing the look of surprised delight on the faces of individuals recognized by the senior fair board for their commitment to fair operations.
“These were the people who were always working behind the scenes,” Champer said. “They were the people who were putting in hundreds of volunteer hours to get this fair up and running, not just for the week but for all of the weeks that came before it.
“I always wanted to be around to see them being honored because their efforts meant the world to me and to so many others.”
Champer said he never disagreed with the selections for those who were honored, but one of the two selections for recognition this year brought forth a mixed bag of feelings for the Mount Sterling resident.
As the announcement of this year honoree’s neared, Champer, past president of the Madison County Agricultural Society, stood where he normally does for opening ceremonies–off to the side but in view of the crowd so he can see the honorees’ reactions.
While extolling the virtues of this year’s honorees, senior fair board secretary Judy Gallimore turned to Champer and asked him to come forward. She praised him for his “tireless efforts” in organizing a fair in the middle of a pandemic last year, for his long-standing commitment to preserving the mission of the fair, and for making it “accessible for generations to come.”
Gallimore announced that not only was the senior fair board recognizing Champer, so was the Ohio Fair Managers Association which named him the 2021 Friend of the Fair.
Champer, who later said he was too surprised to smile at the time, said he appreciated the recognition but questioned whether he was the right person to be honored.
“I’m not one who likes recognition or awards,” he said. “I don’t receive those well.
“It’s definitely appreciated, but there are a lot of people who put in a lot of hard work who could have been selected instead.”
Gallimore begged to differ.
Gallimore said that ever since she met Champer in the fourth grade, she has known him as someone who spoke of the importance of the fair.
“It just meant so much to him,” she said.
Not only did he spend much of his childhood participating in 4-H clubs and showing swine, but he also instilled those values in his family and continued with its promotion when he put his hat in the ring to become a member of the Ag Society’s board of directors in 2014.
Gallimore said Champer has always been an inspirational figure, but his efforts last year to bring forth a partial junior fair during the pandemic inspired her to nominate him for state recognition.
“He was always on the phone talking to health advisors and drafting protocols for how our fair could be safely run,” Gallimore said. “He was doing this for weeks and months on end, and the rules were always changing, so he would always be re-writing those drafts.”
Eventually, those safety plans were accepted and the 2020 junior fair was able to operate.
“We probably wouldn’t have been able to have a fair at all last year if it wasn’t for Darrell,” Gallimore said.
“He’s always been instrumental to the fair,” she continued, adding that Champer helped to bring a new arena and community center to the fairgrounds, “and that is why he is so deserving of this award.”
While Champer may have disagreed with his selection, he did agree with senior fair board’s selection of Arlene Duffey as the second honoree.
Unlike Champer, Duffey had little to no experience in a 4-H club while growing up in London, but nevertheless became its face for those who were involved – or at least had an interest in it.
In 1984, Duffey applied for an open position as an office associate at the Madison County OSU Extension despite knowing little about Extension programming and services. After being selected for the position, she quickly became acquainted with the process and helped thousands of 4-H participants, parents, advisors and volunteers throughout her career.
Gallimore called Duffey “the office rock” and praised her for her willingness to come to the aid of others.
“She is always willing to help,” she said. “If you had an issue, a question, or needed to know something about 4-H, she was the one you went to.”
Duffey, who retired on March 31, said she was humbled by the recognition.
“I was not expecting this at all,” she said. “I thought maybe my invitation (to attend the opening ceremonies) was going to turn into a retirement celebration, so this was a complete surprise–a really pleasant surprise.”
Gallimore said Champer and Duffey represent everything the board looks for in choosing recipients who embody a dedication and commitment to the fair.
“I think it is very important we continue to honor these behind-the-scenes people, these unsung heroes,” Gallimore said. “There is a lot of work that goes into putting on this fair each year, and we have to recognize those people like Darrell and Arlene who are always there, doing the work in the background.”