The Van Wert County Courthouse

Friday, Apr. 12, 2024

New fair manager excited about job

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

Retired fair manager Paul Oechsle (left) shows his successor, Denis Ellinger, some of the operational aspects of the fairgrounds. (Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent)

Both retired Van Wert County fair manager Paul Oechsle and successor Denis Ellinger have fond memories of the fair while growing up in Van Wert County.

Oechsle said he enjoyed his time showing animals while in 4-H, while Ellinger, an Ohio City native, said he remembers driving a demolition derby entry when he was a teenager.

The two men said there were plenty of other things they liked about the fair in those days, while both stressed that there is plenty to like about today’s county fair as well.

Things have changed, though, in recent times and the fair manager’s position is one of them. During Oechsle’s more than 20-year tenure as fair manager, the position was a full-time job that had as its main task the operation of the fair itself in late summer.

No longer.

Ellinger, who returned to the area to be closer to his parents and first took a job working for Proctor & Gamble’s operation in Lima before being hired as fair manager, will be part-time — at least for the foreseeable future — while the fair board itself will be taking over much of the actual operation of the 2012 county fair.

Ellinger has a good business background for his new position. After graduating from Ohio City-Liberty High School, he worked for former auto dealer Fredrick Dodge and what was then known as Continental Can Company in Van Wert before taking a job as a supervisor at Ohio City Manufacturing in his hometown.

He then left the area for a stint in the U.S. Navy, ending up as a technician for the Navy’s attack aircraft. After leaving the Navy, Ellinger went to college, graduating with dual business degrees from The Ohio State University. He then took a job working for Quaker Oats in Illinois before deciding he preferred working where it was warmer.

Ellinger spent the next 25 years or so in the South, working in various materials management and procurement jobs. His last job before returning to the area was as director of procurement for the University of South Carolina.

Ellinger then decided to return to the local area so he could spend more time with his parents and other family and took a job as facilities operation manager for Proctor & Gamble’s Lima plant. But that job quickly developed into 13-hour days, something he was no longer willing to put up with.

“That’s just not where I’m at anymore,” Ellinger said. “It’s just not what I crave to do.”

He quit and took a part-time job in the Van Wert area, but was looking for a new challenge when Oechsle announced he was retiring after nearly 50 years of service to the fair.

Ellinger said that, when he heard the fair manager’s job was open, he sat down with Oechsle to see what the duties of the local position were. He also talked with other fair managers across the state before applying for the position to make sure he had the qualifications to take on the job.

For the past few weeks, Ellinger has been working with his predecessor

“Paul’s been so great,” Ellinger said. “The man’s retired, and he’s been in here well over 60 hours on his own time (to help with training).”

The new fair manager said Oechsle’s wife and son Troy also provided helpful information about fair operations over the past few weeks. “It’s amazing how deeply ingrained in the fair the whole family is and how much they want it to survive and thrive,” the new fair manager said. “It’s awesome.”

Ellinger did admit that the job, even while part-time, won’t be all milk and honey.

“Obviously, there’s some challenges here,” Ellinger added. “There used to be a lot more money, from what I understand, that used to come to the fairgrounds from different income sources throughout the county and those sources have gone away.”

Ellinger said some of the fair’s financial challenges have come from the downsized economy of the county, with its loss of local revenues and jobs, while others have come from changing tastes of area residents who no longer view the fair as the prime summer event in the county.

Whatever the reason, Ellinger said changes are coming to the fair, with fair board members deciding to take on much more responsibility in the actual operation of the fair in late summer, with the now part-time fair manager’s position in a support role that week.

“Basically, I’ve been told that the board runs the fair that week and I’ve got the other 51 weeks,” Ellinger said with a smile, noting that a lot of what were Oechsle’s fair week responsibilities will now fall on the board’s shoulders.

Most of that added work will be unpaid as well, Oechsle noted, since the fair’s dwindling finances have resulted in fair board members not being paid for meetings and travel costs the past several years.

That doesn’t mean Ellinger will be sitting around twiddling his thumbs, however. The fair manager’s job includes operating the fair office, with recent reductions in office hours reflecting the part-time nature of the job. He also handles the fairgrounds’ financials, including year-round facilities rentals and fair concessions prior to fair week.

One thing that surprised him, Ellinger noted, was the significant number of facility rentals at the fairgrounds during the year. “We’ve got some great facilities,” he said, with many of those buildings either rented in winter to store vehicles and boats, or, like the Junior Fair Building and Extension Meeting Room, rented out for wedding and graduation receptions and organization meetings.

Oechsle did note a first for his 46 years of operating the fair: the rental of the Dairy Barn for a wedding reception.

“According to what I heard, they had it decorated like a palace,” Ellinger said, with Oechsle noting that several other people are interested in doing the same thing, with facility rentals already scheduled into 2013.

The new fair manager also cited the increasing number of events being held at the fairgrounds, including longtime events such as the Apple Festival and Old Fashioned Farmers Days, as well as newer events, such as the Van Wert Rib Cook-Off. Those events will also include the first-ever Rally in the Corn motorcycle event this summer, and Ellinger said that event could bring some needed revenues to the community and local businesses.

“We’re excited about that,” the new fair manager said. “That’s a new event and we hope it will be successful.”

Ellinger did note that, while his hours are part-time now, they will likely increase exponentially as fair week approaches.

“It’s going to be very busy in this office during fair time,” Ellinger said, adding that fair-related camping rentals and concessions will force him to increase the hours he works then — something also reflected in the lower number of hours he is working now.

“It’s a shame,” the new fair manager also said of the recent negative comments about the fair, but said he hopes people who have comments or new ideas come to public meetings being scheduled by the fair board to seek public input. The next public meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, February 11, in the Fair Board meeting room in the Administration Building.

The public is also welcome to attend board meetings, which are held the third Wednesday of the month.

Oechsle said he feels the fair “turned the corner” last year and will continue to be more and more successful in coming year.

Ellinger said he hopes the fair will be around for many years to come, largely because he had so many great experiences growing up around the fair. “I loved the food, riding the rides and the arcade when I was growing up, and, as I got older, I enjoyed watching the girls and people watching,” he said, smiling. “Now I’m looking forward to seeing people I haven’t seen for awhile.”

POSTED: 01/31/12 at 5:11 am. FILED UNDER: News