There's a lot to see in the Dover Building at the Delaware State Fair
Just like the capital of the First State, the Dover Building at the Delaware State Fair is full of surprises.
From cakes to needlepoint to homegrown vegetable and fruit displays, different exhibits show off the skills of everyday Delawareans.
The master of the exhibits is Amy Jones of Milford, someone who’s spent many a summer in the Dover Building, first as an exhibitor, then as a volunteer and now as boss of the entire exhibition.
“I was born in Harrington and I grew up going to the fair as a kid,” she said. Living on a farm, Jones exhibited her homegrown vegetables and garden displays every year in the Dover Building.
After high school, she volunteered to help a friend of the family who was in charge of the needlepoint department.
“I’d help her with the setup and whatever else needed to be done,” Jones said. “That kind of kept me involved with the Dover Building.” Jones joined the fair’s board of directors in 2008. Three years later she was asked if she’d be interested in taking over as Dover Building superintendent.
“I said, ‘Sure,’” she said.
‘I love a challenge’
Working at the fair today is a far cry from her experiences two decades ago, Jones said. And while many of the exhibit classifications haven’t changed, the setting itself has.
“Back then it really was different,” she recalled. “We were in an old building, and it was hot. We had no air conditioning and the display spaces were very small.”
“We have more variety now and things are bigger and better,” Jones said. “It’s so much nicer and participation has grown significantly.”
While Jones is in charge of the Dover Building, she admits she couldn’t do half the job without the help of department superintendents. All are volunteers, with more volunteers working for them.
“A lot of people think I get paid, but it’s not that,” Jones said. “All of us volunteer and nobody gets a dollar for the work that they do.”
While some volunteers only can schedule a few hours during the 10-day fair, others are there the entire time. Some use vacation time from their jobs to help out.
“It’s a lot of teamwork, and everyone’s there for the same reason: they love the fair and they love helping out.”
As building superintendent, Jones acts as a liaison between the fair and the different exhibitors, working on everything from handling applications to arranging for judging to making sure everyone has the supplies they need for their displays.
“Part of it is nostalgia,” she said. “I had helped in that building for many years, but I do it today because I love the fair. I’m one of those people who can’t say no to a challenge, and I love a challenge.”
Something for everyone
Over the years, the one constant that has amazed Jones is the talent shown by those who put their work on display.
“Me, I’m a crafty person, but I see things other people make, just using their imagination and it’s amazing,” she said. “People get very excited about signing up for exhibits. They don’t care that much about winning, they care about being exhibited. It’s really neat to see that.”
Competitive categories include displays of fresh vegetables, fruits and other produce, arts and crafts, including photography, fine art and ceramics, and the culinary arts, which include baking, cooking, and canning. Grains, including wheat and barley, are bundled in attractive displays, corn is gathered in well-measured stalks and honey from local apiaries is put on display.
There’s a special section devoted to entries from children ages 6 to 16.
Jones pretty much leaves judging duties to individual department superintendents. They select and train people with experience in each area to give them an idea of what fair organizers are looking for.
What may seem one of the more pleasant experiences -- judging the baked goods -- actually can be a chore, Jones said.
“People in that department have to try everything, they have to taste it all,” she said. “You should see them at the end of the day after they’ve sampled so much. You’re tempted to eat just one piece of cake, but they end up eating 50.”
Fairgoers looking for something to see might not think about taking in the Dover Building when there’s so much to look at on the fairgrounds itself, Jones said. A lot of times people just wander in, looking for a bathroom or to take advantage of the air conditioning.
That’s when they discover something really special.
“They realize there’s really a lot of stuff in here to look at,” Jones said. “They usually find something that sparks their interest because we really have something for everyone. And it gives us a chance to show off what local people are doing and to appreciate the talents those people have.”