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Kiwanis set for big fair

For more than three-quarters of a century, citizens of Covington County have gathered in the autumn. It was partly for social reasons - the long harvest was over and it was time to relax and renew old ties - and partly for bragging rights, as they brought the best of that harvest with them to compare. The county fair tradition continues, with many changes, but one essential factor remains the same - the celebration of the earth's bounty.

More than 40 years ago, the Andalusia Kiwanis Club took over the running of the county fair, with the coordinating efforts usually devolving on the vice-president, part of his or her training for the next year, when he or she would assume the presidency of the civic organization. This year the honor goes to Tony Wells.

It's a natural fit, since Wells is also the director of the Covington Center Arena and is used to juggling performances, exhibitions and vendors. Of course, he rarely has so many to cope with at once. Besides the usual feat of coordinating vendor booths, animal classes, fair displays and the midway, several new things have been added this year, including recognition of why the fair exists in the first place.

"We're doing a salute to agriculture this year," said Wells. "We'll have vintage farm equipment, a large livestock exhibition, including different breeds of horses, cattle and llamas; and an aquatic exhibit."

Besides the new agriculture salute, there will be many of the familiar standards, such as the petting zoo, 4-H exhibits, and small livestock exhibits. And vendor booths - lots and lots of vendor booths.

"The exhibition booths are sold out," said Wells, who said there were 60 of them. The exhibitors aren't limited to local groups, either. The National Peanut Festival will have representation here, as well as the State Cattleman's Association.

"It's going to be great week for the fair. We've ordered good weather," said Wells with a laugh. Last year, cold, wet weather kept attendance down more than usual. This year, he hopes to have the best attendance ever - and for a good reason.

"The proceeds go to help pay for the Kiwanis building, and we use them for the Buckle Up Babies, Reading is Fundamental, and Community Christmas programs, and several local scholarships," said Wells.

The fair opens Thursday night and kicks off with yet another new event , a cheerleading contest featuring teams from area schools. A log cabin will be set up in the arena for musical performances from Celtic to bluegrass to gospel, including the popular local band Double Nickel and a performance by a dulcimer group. Talent shows, beauty pageants, hotdog and boiled egg eating contests - every night has something fun to offer fairgoers, and that doesn't even include the bright lights and adrenaline-rush of the midway, supplied by All American Shows.

Coordinating the event takes all year - even before one fair has ended, planning has begun for the next. While Wells has his arena experience to help him, he has something else he values just as much, of not more - help from his fellow club members.

"We've got a lot of good people serving in the Kiwanis Club," he said.