In the years following World War II, there was a need to unite members of the community through a community project. Two Oley residents, Warren Levengood and Fred Stauffer visited a number of surrounding community fairs including Myerstown, South Lebanon, East Lampeter, and Newfoundland to get ideas for a possible fair in the Oley Valley. The two gentlemen, with the help of a few others, gathered many ideas from the fairs they visited and they determined that the Oley Valley would be an ideal place for a community fair. Although they had their work cut out for them, they approached the Oley Lions club and the Board of Directors at the Oley High School to receive acceptance for the idea. Both individuals played a role on the Board and were members of the Lions Club; therefore, selling the idea was not too difficult.
The Oley Lions Club covered the costs and preparation of a constitution, by-laws and charter. These items provided the group with purpose, regulation and the motivation to carry this out to be a successful project.
A number of individuals came forward to volunteer their help with the start of the fair. Among them was Ralph Lebo, the County Vocational Advisor, who initiated the letters to invite interested persons to attend a meeting to discuss the community fair. The first elected officers of the fair were: President Dr. Bernard Zackon; Vice President F. H. Stauffer; Financial Secretary David Yoder; Treasurer Emil Rhoda; and Secretary Ronald Clark.
The first Oley Valley Community Fair was held on October 2, 3 and 4 1947. All residents within Oley Township and all adjacent ones including: Alsace, Amity, Earl, Exeter, Pike, Rockland, and Ruscombmanor were eligible to enter exhibits at the fair.
The Oley Fair began its tradition on the Oley School grounds. Classes were dismissed on Wednesday afternoon in order to set up for the fair. Students helped with preparing for the fair and also helped with entering exhibits. Various exhibits were housed inside the school including Home Economics, Fruit and Vegetable Departments, as well as some commercial displays. A few Oley citizens, Mike Fox, Bill Oberholtzer and Fred Stauffer, lent money to the Fair to purchase surplus tents from the Army. These tents were erected on the playing fields behind the school to house the Farm Crops and Livestock. The Fire Company Grounds were used for parking.
Through the years the departments and format of the fair stayed the same with a few additions of the Apiary Department and the Art Division. In 1951, a Goat Division was added but six years later it was dropped. There was never a horse division; however, there were mule races for many years and horse shows were held for twelve years beginning in 1953. The horse shows drew large crows of people to the fair. One year, the horse show even endured a near-hurricane. Unfortunately the horse shows came to an end in the mid-sixties due to the need for additional space to expand the fair. Small horse shows continued a few years later to serve as entertainment for the children. Today, horse shows are no longer a part of the community fair; however, miniature ponies are present at the fair for the children to ride. The Oley Fair Divisions still remain the same today providing all in the community an opportunity to exhibit their best products of the farm, home or other enterprises in the community.
Since the very beginning of the fair, winning entrants were awarded monetary premiums. Records show that in the first year of the fair, $267.25 was awarded in premiums. In the first few years of the fair, monetary prizes were awarded to first place winners of each department only. The animal exhibitors were the only ones to receive three monetary prizes. Monetary prizes continued to grow rapidly throughout the years as more entries were received. Also, changes took place and in 1951 monetary prizes were awarded to the top three entries in each departmental class. During our 25th Anniversary year in 1971, we recorded a total of $4,972.00. During the fair in 1994, $12,644.50 in premiums were awarded. Although most departmental classes still reward winners three levels of monetary prizes, all departments award ribbons and some departments offer additional opportunities to win money by offering fourth and fifth place prizes as well. As you can see, the amount of premium dollars and number of winners have increased greatly over the years. By awarding premiums we not only please the entrants by rewarding them for their talents and efforts, we also encourage future participation in the fair and generate a sense of enthusiasm among all community members.
In addition to the premiums that were awarded to the winners, trophies were also distributed to all outstanding department winners. This tradition began in 1953 when The National Bank of Boyertown (presently National Penn Bank) approached President Chaffey with the idea of trophies. The bank felt that it would be appropriate for the top department winners to receive gold trophy cups for their efforts. National Penn Bank continues to provide trophies for the top fair winners. In 1994, twenty-four trophies were presented. The trophies for the Dairy, Beef and Swine Showmanship as well as the trophy for the Sheep Blocking & Grooming were named the Warren B. Levengood Memorial Trophies to honor one of the fair's founders.
While some individuals enjoyed entering their award winning items, other community members simply enjoyed the entertainment and festivities of the fair. Each year special entertainment was scheduled to enhance the three-day fair. The entertainment ranged from musical acts to military demonstrations, high school bands to mule races and much more! In addition to the various forms of entertainment, the fair also held contests for participation by the public. Among these were tractor driving and pulling, lamb trimming, hay bale throwing, pie eating, pig chasing, poster contests and many more. Through the years a number of contests were added. In 1994, sixteen contests were available for visitor participation. There was something for everyone to partake in and enjoy ad the Oley Fair.
As the years pass and the memories remain .... fair visitors will never forget fair traditions such as the Senior Cake & Cider Stand, which was created to generate funds for the senior class to help cover expenses for their class trip, the Chicken Bar-B-Q dinner, which fed many eager fair workers, and the community togetherness experienced by so many each year in an effort to have a successful fair. The time and dedication of so many valued community members is what drives the Oley Valley Community Fair to continue to thrive and prosper.
Volunteers truly make this fair a success. The Anniversary Committee would like to take the opportunity to thank all the area churches, the Oley High School students, Fair Association members and all community members who throughout the years put forth tireless efforts to contribute to the fair.
1998 - brought major improvements to the Oley Fairgrounds. The old bingo building was torn down to make room for the new Oley Fair Centre. This 40 by 100 foot building was constructed for year round usage as it is rented to people for weddings, parties, auctions etc.
1998 - also found technology coming to the fair. After many months of planning, the Oley Fair computerized its entry system. This enhancement made tabulating and check writing much much easier.
1999 - The Oley Fair had a surprise visitor; Hurricane Floyd decided to dump lots of rain and heavy wind on the opening day of our fair. With several tents fallen down and debris all over the fairgrounds, the Oley Fair was forced to cancel the opening day. However, after the storm cleared, our volunteers picked up the pieces and were ready to open the fair again by noon on Friday.
1999 - also brought back the start of the antique car cruise.
2000 - The Oley Fair entered into an agreement with a nearby resident to purchase a small piece of property adjacent to our commercial exhibit building. This piece of property aids in commercial exhibitor parking during the fair. Premium money paid out this year was $15,175.25 with 5,259 entries in the fair.
2001 - This year was a special year for the Oley Fair. Just a few days after the September 11th attacks, the Oley Fair was the perfect place to bring families together to spend time and enjoy family entertainment. With the loss of many individuals through these attacks, the Oley Fair decided to donate 1% of all food sales to the September 11th fund. On another sad note, just a short time after our fair, Marion Yoder our refreshment stand and advertising chairman suddenly passed away, all of us will remember the endless hours that Marion contributed to the fair. Also in 2001, the Oley Fair decorated its fairgrounds with benches that were sponsored by local business people. These benches provided a place for fair attendees to sit and relax as they enjoyed the fair. Premium money paid this year was $18,284.00 with 5,723 entries.