PITTSTON TWP. — Marie Mohila has only been painting pictures for three years while taking group lessons at a community center, but her latest work is taking a center stage this week.
“My husband said, ‘You won Best of Show.’ I said no, I didn’t. I was taken aback, totally, totally surprised,” Mohila, 63, of Dickson City, said outside the Exhibits pavilion at the 14th annual Northeast Fair on Tuesday.
In addition to Best of Show in the Arts, Photographs, Crafts Department, Mohila’s oil work titled “Spring Bouquet” also won $10 and $25 cash prizes along with blue ribbons in the Paintings Class and the Photographs and Paintings Section. Her work, like other top winners at fairs across the state, will be entered to compete at the State Agriculture Fair in Harrisburg.
And that’s one of the biggest benefits of having a county fair sanctioned by the state Department of Agriculture right here in Luzerne County, said Northeast Fair President Charles Salvo.
“Our overall philosophy is that we try to showcase local people and their products and talents, and at the same time assist the communities in our area as much as possible,” Salvo said. “We have a lot of talent in our area and a lot of people don’t realize it.”
In the beginning
Fourteen years ago, members of the Pittston Township Volunteer Fire Department set out to have their carnival, which had been an annual fundraiser for the prior 34 years, achieve county fair status with all the benefits that accompany it.
It was no easy task, given the stringent requirements imposed by the state Department of Agriculture. But after the minimum three-year probationary period, the fire department volunteers achieved their goal, Salvo said, as the Northeast Fair celebrates its 11th year as a state-sanctioned county fair this year.
And so, with a myriad of contests ranging from best homemade apple pie to best zucchini and most beautiful baby to fair queen, local folks get to compete for a chance to have their growing, baking, crafting and creating talents — and in some cases, just their good looks — recognized statewide without having to leave the county.
Asked how the Northeast Fair compares to other county fairs across the state, Laura Haarmeyer, a state-certified honey judge who primarily judges flowers, vegetables, herbs and houseplants at count fairs across the state, said the offerings of the fair are “typical of the area where people have to grow things.”
“Because it’s a mid-June fair, we don’t see the abundance of ripe fruit and vegetables you see elsewhere. However, it affords us the opportunity to see late spring and early summer flowers and herb plants before they go to seed and vegetable plants before they blossom and sometimes carry young fruit,” Haarmeyer said.
Of course, the fair isn’t just about contests and exhibits and showcasing local agriculture and talent.
It’s about having fun!
And folks were doing plenty of that on opening day, whether it was screaming their lungs out on thrill rides operated by Reithoffer Shows, watching returning crowd favorite Ron Diamond work his magic and hypnotize audience members or gorging themselves on traditional county fair foods.
The fair is offering plenty of returning entertainment favorites this year, such as nationally recognized Shawn Klush with his Elvis Tribute Show, and The Cast of Beatlemania, said Joe Pupa, Northeast Fair vice president and co-chairman.
And new to the fair this year is the Eudora Arms Zoo and a Monster Truck Show. Another popular show is expected to be The Swimming Pigs, porkers who Pupa said enjoy racing on land or in water to win an Oreo cookie. (Losers get the crumbs.)
Another new feature this year will be the filming of a 30-minute show there by The Food Network that will air later this summer in the United States and Canada. An eight-member crew will be flown in on Thursday and will spend all day Friday and Saturday interviewing fair patrons and filming at least two of the more unusual food vendors.
One major change to the fair entertainment lineup this year, Pupa said, is the decision to concentrate the bigger concerts and shows over the coming weekend, rather than spread them out over the entire week, given that attendance is relatively low on the first two or three days of the fair.
Fire Department President Allan Capozucca said it’s impossible to predict how attendance will be this year, but the fair has typically raised anywhere from $45,000 to $50,000 over the last few years.
It’s the largest fundraiser for the fire department, and the only one in addition to an annual mailing campaign to township residents.
“All the money goes back into the community because it pays all of the fire department’s bills,” Capozucca said.
He noted that it benefits not only Pittston Township, but surrounding communities as well, given that the township fire department participates in mutual aid.
Funding also goes to other organizations as well, such as the Lackawanna County 4-H Club and the Northeast Pennsylvania Orchid Society.
And Salvo noted that the fair benefits the local economy as well.
“The vendors buy their materials at local businesses and the acts stay in local hotels,” Salvo said.