The Wilson County Fair, a signature event that draws more than 500,000 people to Lebanon every summer, has been canceled because of the coronavirus.
In addition to visitors who come for the food, music, exhibits and carnival, thousands participate — raising animals for the livestock shows, growing flowers, vegetables and crops to be judged, painting, quilting and photography, and pageants for all ages. And hundreds volunteer to help run the massive undertaking.
Friday, longtime fair President Randall Clemons declined to comment on what factors led to the decision to cancel the event, saying that a news release issued Thursday would be the fair’s only comment.
In that release, Clemons is quoted as saying: “The impact of the fair’s cancellation will be felt far beyond the loss of our annual celebration. We are heartbroken for the effect this has had on all businesses, family farms, adult and youth competitors and exhibitors and sponsors who rely on the income and exposure the Wilson County Fair brings to them.”
In recent weeks the fair board has surveyed its volunteers and sought guidance from the state, the federal Centers for Disease Control and others.
“It became clear that not having the traditional Wilson County Fair was the responsible decision,” the news release stated.
The fair was scheduled for Aug. 13-22 this year.
Ruth Correll, the Wilson County director and agriculture agent with the UT Extension office, said, “We’re very disappointed that it had to be done, but we certainly understand why it had to be done.”
She said the “volunteers all agreed we really shouldn’t do it under these health conditions.”
Emily Smith, who chairs the youth exhibits, understands the decision but is sorry for its impact.
“I’ve already had a parent call me,” she said. “They’ve been working on their projects and I just told them to hold it for next year.
One concern she has is for high school seniors who will lose their last opportunity to participate in the youth events.
“It’s going to be sad,” she said.
Many of the fair’s volunteers were game, she said, but many also said they wouldn’t be permitting their families to attend for fear of COVID-19.
“I told them I’d be willing to work,” she said. “I also told them the concerns of people who were telling me they weren’t going to bring any family.”
Both for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations benefit from the fair.
Church youth groups set up booths to sell ice cream, for example, and that is often their major fundraiser for the year. Wilson County civic clubs, such as Rotary and Lions, also rely on the fair as a major fundraiser.
Lisa and David LaGrange own D n L Concessions, a food truck that since 2010 has been selling its fried specialties at the fair.
“It’s going to be a loss emotionally,” Lisa LaGrange said, adding that the truck is a sideline as both she and her husband have full-time jobs, so the loss of income won’t be critical. “We enjoy the people and we’re going to miss the people.”
According to the news release, the fair board might consider other options for a 2020 event should “conditions improve.” What that might be is unknown, although sources indicate some sort of livestock event is likely.
“We look forward to brighter, better days ahead when we can gather again to celebrate all that is exceptional about Wilson County,” Clemons said in the release. “Until then, stay safe, be well and support each other. We will miss you.”