Celebrating summer with a pair of fairs

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WINDHAM COUNTY — The stormy weather didn't stop Windham County residents from enjoying two August traditions: Grace Cottage Fair Day and Rockingham Old Home Days. Locals from the Townshend and Rockingham areas marched their brightly colored umbrellas to the respective downtown areas, determined to have fun.

Grace Cottage Fair Day started in 1950, a year after the hospital opened, according to Andrea Seaton, director of Grace Cottage Foundation's Office of Community Relations. The fair is used every year to raise money for Grace Cottage Hospital's general operating budget. This year was more critical, however, because the money raised will be used to fund a new heating system to replace one that is old and "beyond repair," said Jacki Brown, the marketing administrator at Grace Cottage. The best option the hospital could find was $542,000, she said. The money is being raised through donations, grants and the fair.

The biggest fair money makers tend to be the auction and the White Elephant tent. Brown said both are perfect for people who are looking to outfit their recent college graduate's new apartment. Art work, furniture, dishes and other useful items are sold for low prices.

The hospital also hoped that some of the raffle items would be a hit. Two snow mobiles and a car were donated to the hospital for the raffle prizes.

The Grace Cottage Fair is especially unique, not just because one of the doctors leads a parade dressed as a giant stork, but because it's an entirely community run event.

"It's completely volunteer run," Brown said. "There are really no outside vendors that pay to be here."

All the tents are staffed by Grace Cottage staff or just community members who want to support the hospital.

Jeanne Coleman, who works in the diagnostic imaging department, ran the Kids Corner, where toys, stuffed animals, puzzles, art supplies and baby items were sold.

"Everything is pretty amazing," Coleman said. "And the fact that we get these donations is pretty amazing."

Her favorite part of the fair is watching the parade, where all fair-goers who were born at Grace Cottage follow Dr. Tim Shaefer in his stork costume.

Grace Cottage isn't like most hospitals, Coleman said

"It's very community oriented," she said. "As a staff member, I really get to know all of the departments and all of the people I work with. As a community member, we see all the same faces over and over again so you really get to build relationships with your patients. Patients really care about the hospital in turn."

Alison Trowbridge, who helped run the plant booth, agreed.

"It's such a complete hospital in this tiny little package, in a rural place that, I think, is economically disadvantaged," she said. "They're great with the services they provide and helping people if they can't pay and coming up with arrangements."

She's been coming to the fair off and on for 20 years. "I've enjoyed the circus acts, and the books. I've gotten really great books there," she said. Trowbridge helps her mother-in-law, Sigrid Blazej, who has been running the plant table for 17 years. She's a casual flower gardener. At 9 a.m., Blazej said, the stand made its first sale with a $150 purchase, which was unusual but welcome.

Blazej was happy to help the hospital any way she could. She said all of her children were born at Grace Cottage.

"I like it very much," she said.

Her favorite part of the fair is the book sale where she finds her favorite romance novels.

Old Home Days

In Bellows Falls, Rockingham Old Home Days celebrated its 41st event.

"It's not the first time I've had to buy an umbrella for this event," Pat Fowler, owner of Village Square Books, said. But the rain didn't stop the fun. Young families flocked to the Way Point Center, watched a friendly clown, interacted with birds of prey and munched on cotton candy. Before the fair, residents feasted at the annual Dunkin' Donuts and Athens Pizza eating contests. Then vendors set up camp at the Way Point Center.

Some of the organizations tabling were attending their first ever Old Home Days. The Historical Society of Windham County showcased information about the Newfane station of the West River Railroad. The society recently purchased the station and would like to make it a museum about the railroad.

"Bellows Falls, being a railroad town, we thought it would be a good way to get our name out there," Larry Robinson, treasurer of the society, said.

Shannon Blake, founder and president of Support Outreach Assistance Recovery, also attended the event for the first time. The organization is a nonprofit that supports disabled veterans. It is based in northern Vermont, but Blake hopes to get the word out to southern Vermonters as well.

"We provide activities like hiking, kayaking, biking, cross country skiing, things of that nature," he said.

Old time event goers also showed up, remaining cheerful despite the stormy skies. John Targonski, junior governor of the board of the Bellows Falls Loyal Order of Moose Family Center, helped serve up food. He said the Moose does something for Old Homes Days every year.

"We like Old Home Day," he said.

The Bellows Falls Emblem Club was also there selling raffle tickets for those 18 years and older to win a jackpot money prize. Ashley McCants and Dianne Potter are both longtime residents and Emblem members.

"We've been a staple — we're here every year like RJ's," McCants said.

The club has about eight active members.

"We do a lot for what we have," McCants said.

"And we donate a lot of money," Potter added.

The two both agreed their favorite event is the fireworks.

"For a small town it's amazing," McCants said. "I've been to small towns, big cities, and they may not be as big but they're great."

Harmony Birch can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext.153. Or you can follow her @birchharmony.

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