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The Hamburg Fair is a family affair

August 16, 2018 GMT

Ted Powell is a fair connoisseur. For nearly 60 years, this man from Oakdale has been involved in the industry, getting his start at the Hamburg Fair in Lyme. It was his grandfather who influenced Powell the most and from whom he learned to have a love and passion for the fair lifestyle.

Powell, who grew up in East Lyme, was 5 years old when he presented ponies at the Hamburg Fair for the first time, grooming and cleaning them himself and receiving his first ribbon. Powell quickly caught the fair bug and is now the president of the Hamburg Fair committee. 

This weekend, the Hamburg Fair will return for the 117th year, with its agricultural shows, carnival rides and live music. Back at its 100th anniversary, the fair was on the verge of shutting down. It was then that Powell stepped up and took on the role as president, not wanting to let go of the place that had brought him so many unforgettable experiences.

“We’re an old-time, family fair, and we’re staying that way,” Powell says. “We want to give you the memories that you had as a kid so that you can pass them on to your kids.”

As a father of three and a grandfather of five, Powell is setting the example. All of his children have been involved in their father’s work, and the Hamburg Fair was the first fair that his four oldest grandchildren, ages 10, 9, 7 and 6, ever attended.

Family seems to be a motif at the Hamburg fairgrounds, with vendors like Stanley’s Shaved Onions and Ray’s Fries. Stanley’s son works the fried bread dough joint right next to him, and this will be the third generation of Ray’s Fries at the Hamburg Fair, frying up crisp potatoes for over 50 years now.

Powell recalls how it was starting a family of his own that brought him back into the fair scene, and now the people at the fair have become his extended family as well.

“To me, you come to my fairgrounds, and I treat you like family,” Powell says. “If something happens in the family, I’m there because that’s the way you have to be in this industry. People like to be treated like they’re family. They’re not there just to have you give them money; nobody wants to be treated that way.”

To Powell, it’s all about the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. This motto drives his relationships, from his fair board, to the vendors and to the people who enter their gates every year. For him, he wants everyone to enjoy themselves and to be involved, whether that’s in the pie-eating contest or the pony rides, and he always remembers to say at least one thing to them that he calls the easiest two words to say: Thank you.

“If somebody can only give you an hour, you thank them. They’ve done everything they could for you. If another person turns around and gives you 40 hours, you thank them,” Powell says. “It doesn’t make that person better than the other person, it’s just the right thing to do.”

The Hamburg Fair has a rich history of community involvement and is the reason, Powell believes, that people keep coming back year after year. Lyme has only 2,300 residents, but the fair generates quadruple the number of attendees, and it seems as though everyone and their mother helps out when this time of year comes around. People from local churches, Boy Scout troops and even the Subaru dealership across from the fairgrounds all pitch in to help the event kick off each year. 

“This is probably one of the most community-driven fairs in the state,” Powell says. “But we also give back. This fair generates over 7 general admission, $5 active military and senior citizens, free for kids up to age 12; hamburgfair.org.