- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 19, 2004

On the grounds of the Gaithersburg fair, the volunteers have faded into the background as fairgoers throng the livestock sheds and the midway where the Ferris wheel with pennants flying turns majestically above the swelling crowds.

The annual Montgomery County Agricultural Fair is in full swing. Behind the scenes, the volunteers keep things running like a well-oiled machine.

Chief among them is Gene Walker, a volunteer who works at the fair for the sheer joy of it. For most of the year, his work is largely administrative. But with the Monday opening of the fair looming, he became a jack-of-all-trades, fixing water leaks, organizing trash removal and even dispensing insect spray. Nothing is too small, nothing is overlooked.

Starting about three weeks before the fair’s opening, Mr. Walker works full time helping organize the schedule and setup for various events and venues. He helps put together stages and place benches throughout the grounds.

The week of the fair, Mr. Walker spends more than 12-hour days alongside the other volunteers, making sure everything is going smoothly. His days are hectic, full of odds-and-ends jobs such as telling another volunteer where to find the insect spray or discovering the source of a water leak in one of the buildings.

His workdays during fair week begin at 6:30 a.m. The gates open at 8 a.m., and things stay busy until closing at 11:30 p.m. Mr. Walker might fit in a short nap or shower in the camper trailer he keeps on the grounds.

He uses the 27-page book of scheduled events as his daily guide, but his biggest logistical problems are manure and trash. The 300 to 500 animals on display produce a lot of manure, so Mr. Walker has arranged for mushroom farmers to carry it off the grounds.

To take care of the human trash, he has organized a team of volunteers.

The work doesn’t end when the fair does. For two weeks, Mr. Walker will help tear down displays and clean up the grounds.

Marcia Tomai, a 4-H superintendent in charge of the Horse-N-Around 4-H club from Clarksburg, likens Mr. Walker and his team to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Like Arthur, Ms. Tomai says, Mr. Walker works right beside those he commands.

Mr. Walker, as a vice president and chairman of the agricultural board, helps organize materials and setup for fairgrounds events. His right-hand man is Ron Magaha, another chairman, who makes sure things go smoothly.

Like many of his fellow workers, Mr. Walker is involved in agriculture. He owns a 270-acre farm in Damascus, 20 minutes from the fairgrounds, where he farms Angus cattle more for pleasure than income.

At 59, Mr. Walker has earned the right to do as he pleases. Hard work in the sun has highlighted his hair and turned his skin nut brown, and his kind blue eyes express embarrassment at being the subject of so much attention.

He would much rather see the other volunteers get the credit.

After working with the fair since 1990, he and the others enjoy plenty of good-natured ribbing — joking about who does the most work or gets the most credit — but they know it takes teamwork to put together a seamless show.

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