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‘See you down the road’

Long-time fair concessions manager sings his Swan song

POSTED July 11, 2012 3:14 p.m.

What started as a summer job in 1983 will end this year, as longtime Stanislaus County Fair concessions manager Dick Swan will retire following the 2012 fair.

“It’s just time,” Swan said. “It’s time.”

Swan stumbled into working at the fair, almost by accident.

Then a teacher in Livingston, he was grousing about the office complaining about teaching summer school. A school secretary overheard the conversation, handed him the phone number to the Stanislaus County Fair, and told him to stop complaining.

Swan was hired as special events director that summer, one of many posts he held before becoming concessions manager.

As his role at the fair grew, Swan’s wife grew tired of her absentee husband in the summer months. So, in 1995, Carole Swan decided to work alongside her husband, joining the fair in credentialing before eventually becoming the assistant concessions manager. Carole Swan, too, will retire following this fair.

Today, the Swans work side-by-side, using their shared vision to further the aims of the fair.

“It’s a great job,” Swan said. “I laugh a lot and I have a great time.”

With his retirement, Swan said he hopes someone else can have as much fun as he has had for the past 29 years, enjoying the rich history of the fair and beautiful fairgrounds it inhabits. Even as other fairs have struggled with declining state funding, the Stanislaus County Fair has continued to thrive.

“We could fill our booths twice, maybe two and a half times over,” Swan said. “This fair enjoys a reputation of being a fair of quality, and we always have more people who want to exhibit here than we have spaces.”

Swan said he’s always worked to give a fair shake to all his concessionaires – an opportunity to make some money, present a good product, and be treated with respect. It’s paid off over the years; even when the State Fair rescheduled to the same dates as the Stanislaus County Fair, not a single vendor opted to leave.

This year, the fair will welcome three new food vendors – a crepe vendor, a chocolate-dipped food seller, and a pasta shop. But Swan recommends attendees stick to the basics.

“Nobody can go to a fair without eating a corndog,” Swan said. “I think it’s enshrined in the Constitution somewhere.”

Swan and his wife expect to spend much of retirement in their Calaveras County cabin. But the fair still runs through Swan’s blood; he expects to use some of his leisure time to visit world-famous fairs like the Calvary Stampede and the Iowa State Fair.

For now, Swan is enjoying his last fair, preparing for the impending arrival of scores of concessionaires – some of whom Swan’s known for years. As people begin to unload and set up, Swan says it’s like a high school reunion every year.

And as the week draws to a close, and vendors go their separate ways, it’s never farewell, Swan said. Not even this year, as Swan prepares to step away for the last time.

“Nobody ever says goodbye at the end of the fair,” Swan said. “They say, ‘See you down the road.’”

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