The week of the San Mateo County Fair is blocked off of Grace Hardy’s calendar every year.
“If you can’t get a hold of Mom, she’s at the fair,” said Hardy, detailing the common knowledge shared among her family each summer when the fair rolls into town.
The San Mateo resident is a dedicated volunteer, spending the free time in her retirement over each of the past seven summers helping guests navigate the fairgrounds, assisting with arrangement of the quilt exhibit or mingling with her friends in the flower show.
Her ongoing commitment to volunteerism is largely motivated by an appreciation for all the unsung heroes who work tirelessly behind the scenes for little recognition to help organize the event which unifies thousands of friends and family members every June.
“The thing I like the most is seeing it all come together,” said Hardy.
Proudly dawning her sky blue fair volunteer T-shirt, Hardy said she also gets a kick out of the variety of questions she encounters from visitors seeking help to find their favorite ride, food vendor, band or special interest exhibit.
“I just help the guests have a safe and good time,” she said.
One might expect the nearly 40 years that Hardy has spent returning to the county fair would build an institutional knowledge which she draws from to be a more effective volunteer.
But on the contrary, she said becoming a capable helper is a relatively simple process which requires only a few trips through the fairgrounds to get familiar with the environment, a map for reference and a willingness to help others.
“It doesn’t take a brain surgeon, it just takes a person with a good smile on their face,” she said.
Beyond the fulfillment she gets helping others, being at the fair has also rounded out Hardy’s personal life. She keeps a tight-knit bond with her friends who run the quilt and floral exhibits, and recalled decades ago encountering a local alumni chapter from her college sorority at the fair, and the friendships established there still endure.
Hardy said she probably most enjoys the exhibits due to her affiliation with the organizers, but said she also greatly appreciates those who enter the agriculture and art competitions.
She took time to acknowledge the considerate contribution of the volunteers who set up and operate those shows, noting they handle the work of the amateurs with the same care as the professionals.
“I’m proud to wear this T-shirt because staff and everyone here works so hard,” she said.
Beyond showcasing the talent and passion of the local community, Hardy said the exhibits can serve as an accessible gateway for expanding the interests of fair goers.
“If you’re not into a particular hobby of some kind, this is a way to discover it,” said Hardy, whose daughter as a child developed an interest in trains after she was intrigued by a railroad exhibit at the fair.
While exhibits are likely her favorite part of attending the fair, Hardy said she also gets a simple enjoyment out of seeing the Ferris wheel lit up at night from her backyard.
And despite her clear appreciation for the event, Hardy acknowledged there is still room for improvement. Namely she hoped the mini doughnuts would return and wished there would be a fireworks show.
But while there may be some minor changes that she would prefer, that fair is dependably safe and fun for the whole family makes it so special to Hardy each year.
“Nothing changes,” she said. “That’s what is so great about the fair.”
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