COLUMBIA — Beth Weinsting and Caroline Dorsey sit in collapsible lawn chairs underneath a small red and white striped tent at the entrance of Gate A at the Boone County Fairgrounds. Two small coolers sit next to them and a small wooden table in front. A strong breeze blows laminated copies of the fair schedule, and Dorsey has to secure them down with duct tape. It may be annoying, but both women are thankful for the breeze this evening as they take admissions for the fair.
“We sit here, swelter in the heat, shoot the breeze, keep the bugs off, and answer the questions people have,” Weinsting said.
Most people ask for the location of buildings or events, Dorsey said.
“When we can’t answer questions — that’s usually when we’re really busy and don’t have much time to talk with people — we always direct them to the information booth,” Weinsting said. “That’s when getting a drink or going to the bathroom is a chore.”
This is Weinsting’s fourth year and Dorsey’s third year working as a volunteer for the fair. They help out because their husbands are members of the Masonic fraternal organization, the Aleppo Grotto; the local chapter of the Grottoes of North America. Though it’s an organization for men, Weinsting said there are a lot of ways women can also help out.
The Boone County Fair is one such opportunity; members of the Grotto and their wives help volunteer with admissions and parking cars.
J.P. Perry, a Grotto member, said that the Grotto and the fair have had a standing agreement for volunteers since the fair’s second year.
Wednesday night is usually the busiest night at the ticket booth, Dorsey and Weinsting said, because the wristbands to get into the carnival cost $10 instead of the usual $15. That’s the day they always see teenagers getting dropped off by their parents to go to the carnival.
“They’re not old enough to drive, and they’re not young enough to want to hang out with their parents anymore so they go here,” Weinsting said. “The worst part is they have no money to get into the fair, only the $10 for the carnival. The parents didn’t think about the admission.”
The busy nights and the heat can make some fairgoers have sour attitudes, Dorsey and Weinsting said.
“People get cranky because they don’t want to pay admission, or they try to sneak in,” Weinsting said. “So we have to act as counselors as well. We have to calm them down, insist that they pay and tell them that we’re volunteers and did not set the price.”
Some people even try to manipulate their way out of paying the full admission fee, Weinsting said.
“Sometimes when we ask how old a child is, the parent says six because they want to get the kid in for free,” Weinsting added. “But then the kid pipes up and says, ‘No, I’m seven.’”
“Kids are very good at being honest,” Dorsey said.
But the women also wondered if this year’s high gas prices might keep the crowds down at the fair, even on Wednesday night. The cost of gas has affected their own fair experience as well; Dorsey and her husband decided to camp out at the fairgrounds for the entire week while they volunteerthrough Saturday to avoid the commute.