JACKTOWN – A Wind Ridge woman who has been a lifelong supporter of the Jacktown Fair was named grand marshal of the annual Jacktown Fair parade.
Mary Jane Kent, whose family has been involved with the fair for generations and who has never missed a fair in her life, will be honored during the parade, which will get under way at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Wind Ridge to kick off the fair’s 149th edition.
Kent was chosen grand marshal because of her long involvement with the fair, said Walter “Buck” Burns, president of the Richhill Agricultural Society, which sponsors the fair that is considered to be the oldest continuous fair in the nation.
“She helps out every year. She’s a very good supporter of the fair, one of the best,” Burns said. “She really deserves to be the grand marshal.”
Kent attended her first Jacktown Fair in 1947, when she was about two months old. “Of course, I don’t remember it, but I’m sure I was there,” she said. “My family was always there; it was really important to us.”
One of her relatives, J.G. Dinsmore, was the first secretary of the fair board. Her grandfather, Elmer Dinsmore, and her father, Gross Dinsmore, were both fair board members, and her brother, Jamie Dinsmore, now serves on the board as superintendent of livestock.
Kent, who has worked for Greene County for the last 20 years and is now in the department of economic development, has been involved in the fair, in one aspect or another, since her youth.
“Some of my earliest memories involve the rides with their colorful lights and calliope music. Rides were 25 cents apiece and we were permitted to ride two rides during the week,” she said. “The Ferris wheel was always one of my choices because I loved being stopped on top and looking over all the fairgrounds.”
Kent said she never had the money to play the carnival games, but she also never had the desire to do so. Except for the occasional game of bingo, she said, she has not spent even a quarter on the games.
“There is always so much going on with what I consider the ‘real fair’ that I have never been attracted to them,” she said.
To her, the real fair is not the carnival and its amusements. To her, its about agriculture, it’s about local people bringing their “best” to the fairgrounds for the competitions, be it livestock or the flowers and vegetables they’ve grown in their gardens.
The fair to her, she said, is also like a big annual “reunion.” Each year, those who come to work at the booths, exhibits and displays have the chance to see the people they’ve gotten to know over the years and who have become “like family,” she said.
Kent said her first involvement working at Jacktown was as a child when she helped out in the Harvey’s Grange food stand. “We served a lot of food, including a full meal special every day,“ she said. The proceeds helped the grange built its current hall.
As a teenager, she also helped with paperwork for the garden tractor pulls, an event that was initiated by her father.
She has continued to volunteer at the fair, registering the vehicles for the truck and tractor pulls and the other mechanical pulling contests.
“Who would ever have thought when daddy decided that we should pull garden tractors at Jacktown, that I’d still be registering and clerking the mechanical pulling contests 50-some odd years later?” she said.
In her youth, Kent also was active in 4-H and each year showed cattle at the fair. That tradition was carried on by her daughter, Patricia Keller, and is continued today by her three granddaughters, Lexi, Destiny and Sadie Keller, who show 4-H market lambs at the fair.
For several years, Kent and her late husband, Ernie, also helped at the Richhill Volunteer Fire Co. food stand, and later, for a time, she managed the Nebo United Methodist Church food stand.
Kent said she also was “honored” to serve as a judge for various fair events in the past few years. She judged the leadline contest, the fair queen competition and floats entered in the annual parade.
“It is just natural for all of us members of the Jacktown Fair family to pitch in wherever we are needed,” she said.
Kent also exerted her efforts to assist the Greene County Fair, at which she worked in the home and garden department for 40 years.
In addition, she has remained active in the community and is master of Harveys Grange, past master of the Greene County Pomona Grange and past lecturer of the Pennsylvania State Grange.
Kent also served on the West Greene School Board, is a past president of the Richhill Township Volunteer Fire Co. auxiliary, past president of the VFW Post 4793 ladies auxiliary and past senior regent of the Women of the Moose, Chapter 888 in Waynesburg.
But it’s her lifelong involvement with the Jacktown Fair that shows how important the fair is in her life.
“I guess I just have fair blood,” Kent said.
“An event like the Jacktown Fair could not be the year-after-year success that it is without countless hours of planning, preparing and working,” she said. “I cannot imagine not being involved in the Jacktown Fair.”