A few years ago at a trade convention in Las Vegas, somebody referred to Darlene Confer as “the person with all of the tents.”
There are worse things to be called, but it’s worth noting that Confer’s official title is actually general manager of the Grange fairgrounds, the site of the country’s only encampment.
Both Confer and the grounds are approaching their busiest time of the year, a two-week event that draws members of 4-H, music acts from across the country and anybody in search of a decent deep-fried Oreo — the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair.
“You have to have a wide range of activities so that there is something for everyone,” Confer said.
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After 141 years, the popular agriculture fair is still continuing to grow and evolve, adding two extra days to its schedule and moving the start date up a week to Aug. 21 to avoid conflicting with the beginning of school — which is good, because it sounds like there will be plenty for the kids (and their parents) to do.
Take it from Ben Haagen, president of the fair committee, who has been involved with 4-H for 40 years and has been attending the Grange Fair since he was “a babe in arms.”
Haagen said the fair is meant to promote and showcase Pennsylvania agriculture but is also a place for families and friends to reconnect after time apart. Every year, his daughter and her family travel from Oregon to meet him at the fairgrounds.
If familial bonds aren’t strong enough to trump the price of admission, there will be more than 300 concessionaires onsite prepared to bait onlookers with the promise of hamburgers and ice cream.
“People are looking for a total package when they come to a fair,” Haagen said. Which now includes getting a little bit of exercise.
Confer acknowledged that people have come to associate fairs with fried food, an image that they are trying to transcend.
“I like to think that we have become more health conscious,” she said.
In addition to the annual blood drive, among this year’s new offerings is a 5K run sponsored by Penn State Hershey Medical Center that will be held early on the last day of the fair. A daily health walk will also be held every morning so that visitors can get the healthy stuff out of the way before getting down to the business of having fun.
Confer said many of the fairground guests have the same spots reserved year after year for tents and RVs, a tradition that is passed down through the generations.
“The kids are growing up together and now they’re tenting,” Confer said.
This year’s annual tent competition has stiff competition. In years past, tents have been adorned with themes ranging from a 9/11 tribute to the popular Disney film “Frozen.”
In addition to the custom decorations, the campgrounds will feature a touch of glamor. A few lucky campers will get to spend a night inside a luxury tent adorned with a hardwood floor, wicker furniture and a huge bed. The eight lucky winners were announced at the Spikes game July 31.
After the fair, the tent’s contents will be auctioned off to benefit the fair’s tree fund.