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Event organizers proceeding with plans for summer 2021

Hope is for return of county fair, full Memorial Day parade

With the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing restrictions in place, 2020 was a lost year for many events in our region, but, with a vaccine being distributed and people beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel, organizers for two of the county’s biggest events are beginning to make plans for a return to possible normalcy.

Last year’s Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade was one of the few events that was not canceled entirely, with organizers scaling the event down, hosting it without spectators and livestreaming it, preserving a record as the nation’s longest running observance of its kind.

But the parade’s planning committee is hoping for a return to its traditional format for May 31, when the parade will have its 153rd year.

“We had a meeting Monday night,” event organizer Lou Pyles said. “And we are starting work on Navy Night, veterans services and the lineup.”

Pyles said she has spoken to speakers, sponsors and others involved in the event and they are proceeding with the understanding that things could change, depending on the state of the pandemic.

“We’ll see how things are closer to May 31,” she said.

Pyles has been chosen as grand marshal this year, her second time in the position, having previously served in 2006. She was last year’s division commander.

Lori Donohue has been named as division commander for this year, while the honorary grand marshal will be announced at a later date.

Last year’s Lawrence County Fair was canceled entirely, as organizers said limits on mass gatherings and other pandemic precautions would have made grandstand events, which fund the event, impossible.

In its place, independent organizers organized a three-day Lawrence County Livestock Show, which gave youth who worked on 4-H and FFA projects an opportunity to show their animals. Those organizations were not officially involved with the show.

Earlier this week, DeWine vetoed Senate Bill 375, which would have voided a director of health order regarding county fairs.

The governor stated the decision to limit all fairs to junior fair events, which include 4-H and FFA events, was “necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while preserving the essence of our fairs — the many projects that our youth participate in at the fair.”

The state provided assistance to agricultural societies throughout Ohio, including $4.7 million to local fairs with $50,000 for each fair conducting a junior fair in 2020.

He said the current order should stay as is.

“A blanket rescission of the current Order does not achieve the goal of working together to properly plan the upcoming fair season while ensuring the public health and protection of the people of Ohio,” DeWine said in a statement. “Therefore, it is reasonable and necessary for the current order to remain in effect while these collaborative efforts occur.”

Rachael Fraley, extension educator for 4-H through The Ohio State University, which organizes 4-H and FFA activities in Lawrence County, said, as they approach the fair’s July date, they are continuing to move forward on preparations for now.

“We are following all guidelines set by Ohio 4-H and the health department, so, although we are looking to begin providing essential educational 4-H club meetings and events in-person, we are also still providing virtual and hybrid opportunities,” she said. “DeWine’s veto on the bill has not slowed us down in the preparation of the new year, as we trust he and his advisors will make the best decision for county fairs as we get closer to July.”

Chris Collier, the vice president of the Lawrence County Fair Board, said they are tentatively planning for a full fair, despite the current order.

“The assumption is that, with the vaccine distribution, hopefully the restrictions will be lifted by July,” he said.

Collier noted that the Lawrence County Fair is one of the earliest county fairs on the calendar in Ohio and that they had already made the decision to cancel the 2020 fair before funds were made available from the state.

He said that county fairs have a huge advocate in State Rep. Jason Stephens, R-93, of Lawrence County, who worked to make those funds available to county events.

“He loves fairs and he really pushed for that funding,” Collier said.

Collier said they had a convention this month and began the process on usual contracts for vendors and services.

“The things we’re doing right now are the things you usually do going into the fair,” he said.

Collier said he had spoken with Fraley about plans for this year, noting that youth begin their animal projects in the next few months.

“We’re really in the same place we were last year,” he said of the uncertainty, but said the hope is that things will be back to a more normal state by July.

He said he has not heard if funds from the state will again be available if the order stands this year.

He said the fair board will meet again in February and will continue to work on the issue.

“At the end of the day, we want to make sure everyone is safe,” he said.