Few people knew that Gov. Tom Corbett was going to be strolling past the peach dumpling stand or popping in to shake hands at the shaved ice truck Thursday afternoon.
But it didn’t take long for people to take notice and start approaching him.
The short walk toward the South Stage took longer than expected as Corbett, running for re-election, took his time, nodding, waving, meeting people introduced by his companions state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, and the Republican Centre County commissioners, Chris Exarchos and Steve Dershem.
When he got to the stage, however, it was down to the business of lauding the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair.
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“I get the opportunity to go to a lot of county fairs,” he said. “I tell people, not just in Pennsylvania, but around the country, how great this fair is.”
He didn’t come to Centre County alone. Corbett was joined by Secretary of Agriculture George Greig and special agriculture adviser Barron “Boots” Hetherington.
“If fairs don’t happen, it’s the beginning of the end for agriculture,” said Greig, who praised the workers and volunteers that make it happen every year. “It takes a team to put on an event like the Centre County Grange Fair.”
There are 109 county fairs that happen across the commonwealth.
“Each has its own niche, but none is as famous as Centre County’s,” Greig said.
He brought along a check for $29,000 from the Department of Agriculture, reimbursement for expenses from the 2013 fair, like the premiums awarded to the best exhibits.
“That deserves a round of applause,” Hetherington said.
The crowd responded. So did fair committee member LeDon Young.
“Fair funding keeps us going,” she said.
Greig credited the governor for that, saying that under the current administration and legislature, funding to fairs has increased by more than $2 million.
Exarchos echoed the importance of state support for the fair, calling it “a great economic boon for the county.”
For Hetherington, the Grange Fair is important because of what it represents. There is the agriculture, Pennsylvania’s top industry. Then there’s the tourism, the state’s second biggest moneymaker. The Grange Fair is both in one package.
But Corbett said it’s also something more.
“This is Americana. It really is. We still have it in Pennsylvania and I can’t think of a better place for it. I really do,” he said.
He asked the crowd to raise their hands if they had been coming for 50 years. Hands went in the air all over the audience. Sixty years? There were still plenty raised. Seventy years? Only a few remained.
When he got to 80 years, there was just one hand still waving, and he had to turn around to see it. Anna “Mickey” Peters, a fair committee member, has been coming to the fair for more than half of its 140-year life, and nearly all of hers, with no plans to stop anytime soon.
“I keep going back to the idea of tradition,” Corbett said. “You are verbal history. ... I commend you for keeping it up.”