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Ensor Franklin from Bennington tries to reel in a wooden fish from the fish pond.


All’s fair in Townshend

Hospital fair celebrates its 65th year on a perfect August day

TOWNSHEND—On a breezy, sunny Saturday, beneath a bright blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds, scores of fairgoers filled the town common for the 65th annual Grace Cottage Hospital Fair Day.

After an uncomfortably humid week, many attendees and volunteers expressed relief that the weather was so cooperative that day.

Deven Wicker thought it was too hot and was happy to take the plunge into the chilly water at the dunk tank, near the northern entrance of the fair.

Wicker, visiting from Des Moines, Iowa, said he is participating in this summer’s performance arts program at Leland & Gray Union High School. He said his aunt is one of the program’s organizers.

When asked if his aunt cajoled him into participating, Wicker said, “No, I volunteered.”

Kenneth Rudd, M.D., who works at Grace Cottage Hospital in their emergency department, stood by collecting money from those wishing a chance to dunk Wicker. But, Rudd’s damp hair confirmed his statement that he, too, took his turn on the platform.

He said he and other medical professionals signed up for the “Dunk-A-Doc” portion of the tank’s scheduled dunkings.

“We had lots of business today,” Rudd said, noting that by 2 p.m., the tank had “almost 100 customers.”

Just a few steps away from the dunk tank, the singsong cadence of an auctioneer could be heard emanating from beneath the big tent.

As volunteers brought a variety of items to the front, bidders sitting in white folding chairs raised paper plates adorned with handwritten numbers to signal their interest.

“Here’s a nice set of stereo speakers,” announced the auctioneer.

“Who’ll give me 10?” he asked.

“Five?” he followed.

“All proceeds benefit the hospital,” he reminded the audience.

One of the volunteers displaying the merchandise took the two Sony speakers for a dollar.

Next up was a vintage oak desk in the arts-and-crafts period style — “perfect for your computer,” the auctioneer said, noting that the built-in bookcase on the side could hold the power cords.

Fair fare

Lining the perimeter of the grounds were booths featuring a variety of standard fair fare: cotton candy, hamburgers, face painting, games for the kiddies, a bouncy house.

Like the auction, proceeds from these go to the hospital to help them buy equipment.

Ensor Franklin from Bennington tried his skill at the Fish Pond. Using a red plastic fishing pole, he scored a green wooden fish from the cheerful blue kiddie pool.

“We have a winner!” the attendant announced.

Franklin pondered the baskets full of prizes. Glow-in-the-dark necklaces, little rubber balls, colorful plastic toys.

Finally, he decided a golden ring was the thing, and he toddled off with it.

Some of the booths at the Grace Cottage Hospital Fair seem atypical for an event such as this.

Houseplants, arranged by growing conditions — “perennials for shade,” “annuals for sun” — spilled from the booth onto the lawn in front of it.

A tent covering about 10 x 20 feet housed the popular book sale. Most books cost a buck; after 3 p.m., patrons were invited to fill a bag for the same price.

A few booths away was the combination “white elephant” and Christmas tchotchke tag sale, where merchandise was priced to move — even prior to the 3 p.m. fill-a-bag event.

Three generations of fairgoers

An attendee brought her selections to volunteer Suzanne Sylvester of Jamaica, who tried convincing the customer to buy a plastic angel Christmas tree topper.

“New, still in the box!” Sylvester said.

When the woman said she does not put up a tree, Sylvester’s expression dropped.

“You don’t do Christmas?” she asked.

The attendee assured Sylvester she loved Christmas, but dragging a tree up to her second-floor apartment was too great a task.

Sylvester’s face lit up as she pointed to a two-foot-tall plastic tree, with a pair of Santa Claus-style boots as the stand.

“This is for you,” she said, “free of charge!”

As the attendee chatted with Sylvester’s daughter and granddaughter, Bethany and Kathryn Michal, of Woodsville, N.H., Sylvester filled a bag with decorations for the little tree, also gratis.

When she handed the bag to the fairgoer, Sylvester said, “We’re three generations of volunteers!”

“I’ve been working on this booth now for 10 years,” she added.

Nearby, Chloe Walier, a student at the New England Center for Circus Arts, towered over the booths and attendees.

Costumed in bright, satiny stripes and a red bow in her hair, Walier, of Brattleboro, was fastened to a set of stilts, bringing her head to almost eight feet off the ground.

“It’s my fourth stilting set of the day,” Walier said.

In the center of the common, a handful of patrons sat in the sun, watching the three-piece band play a variety of country and rock-’n’-roll tunes.

Newfane’s Billy Brooks was one of them.

Brooks, in his early 50s, said he has attended the Grace Cottage Hospital Fair since he was a kid.

When asked his favorite part of the fair, he pointed to a nearby attendee snacking on a sausage grinder from the nearby lunch booth, Isabelle’s Kitchen.

“The food,” Brooks said, smiling.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #317 (Wednesday, August 5, 2015). This story appeared on page A1.

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