The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Community

July 13, 2011

Old Home Week keeps VFD running

FREDONIA — Since the inception of Fredonia Old Home Week, folks have sliced and fried 150,000 pounds of potatoes to feed the hungry fairgoers every summer.

The event is in its 76th year and began as a community put-on festival. A couple years after it started, the Fredonia Volunteer Fire Department took over.

“We’ve run it ever since,” said Fire Chief George Benninghoff.

Old Home Week kicked off Tuesday with the firemen’s parade. Today there’s a 5K race; on Thursday there’s a pet parade and the Mercer County Dairy Princess will visit; then on Friday apple pies will be judged and Smokey the Bear will make an appearance; and the chicken barbecue is set for 5 p.m. Saturday, the final day, when the  grand prize drawing will be held.  All special events start at 7 p.m.  

Benninghoff, 73, has been involved for nearly half a century. He oversees the whole event and personally orders the meat and produce for the food booths and what everyone in the borough of 500 calls “the eatin’ tent.”

There, people can buy hot sausage sandwiches, hamburgers, pizza, homemade pie and other homestyle favorites.

The hand-cut French fries are just one draw to the tiny town fair. Benninghoff said they go through a ton of potatoes each year.

“I’ve been told they’re the best around,” Benninghoff said of the French fries. “We take pride in the fact that if it’s raining, people will drive up and run to the window to get fries.”

One thing that makes Fredonia’s fair special is its rich tradition, Benninghoff said, noting it’s one of the few in the area that the fire department still runs completely.

“People plan their vacations to be here,” he said while getting things organized in the fire station kitchen.

The day before the fair starts, Benninghoff’s busy making sure produce and paper products are stocked and lining up helpers to do everything from slice peppers and onions for the hot sausage booth to figuring out who’ll work where when.

In addition to the 20 or so volunteer firefighters who respond to emergencies in Fredonia and Fairview and most of Delaware townships, plenty of other residents help out each year. Some help out one night working food sales – the Ringer family handles much of it – and others spend every night in the bingo tent calling numbers and passing out cards. Local businesses pitch in, too, donating equipment to help or items to raffle off.

A group of ladies slices vegetables daily. Benninghoff said those duties this year fall to Grace Wagner, Joan Ringer, Mary Jane Shearer, Claudia Gardill, Patsy Munnell, Marjorie Anderson, Mary Marstellar and Joyce Garner.

Benninghoff mans a grill each evening. He usually starts his day at 2 p.m. and doesn’t get home until after 2 a.m. when everything’s cleaned up and prepped for the next day. And he still gets up early – like 4:30 a.m. early – and goes to work each day.

He noted that the people running it are getting older and hope some younger folks will take up the planning at some point.

“I guess we have fun doing this. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t keep doing it, but it’s also a necessary thing to fund the fire department,” Benninghoff said.

Proceeds from Old Home Week cover about 30 percent of the fire department’s operating budget. “So we want to make it good,” Benninghoff said of the festival.

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