Fair director Ernest Lawson’s challenge this year

By Ernie Williamson

The Bulletin


After two years of steering our county fair through the pandemic, Ernest Lawson, executive director of the Brazoria County Fair Association, says this year’s fair will return to more normal operations.


Attendance suffered during the pandemic years, but this year Lawson expects 150,000 visitors during the fair’s nine-day run from October 14-22 at the Angleton fairgrounds.


Lawson says one of the biggest challenges facing the fair association this year is getting the community and volunteers accustomed to once again having a fully operational fair.


This year’s fair will feature added attractions. Visitors can venture onto new carnival rides. And pig racing debuts.


Also, there will be an educational demonstration on milking cows. “We want kids to know that the milk they drink didn’t come from H-E-B,” Lawson says.


Although the pandemic isn’t nearly as threatening this year, the fair association isn’t taking chances on becoming a “super spreader” event. Special crews will clean facilities every four hours.


For Lawson and his full-time staff of five, plus 300 volunteers, October is a month of auctions, cookoffs, and parades, all leading up to the fair.


But the association stages events all year.


The fair association is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities and scholarships to the youth of Brazoria County.


In addition to the fair, the association holds the Science Fair, rodeos for youngsters and the Spike and Spurs Golf Classic.


Other off-season events include the Auto & Bike Show, Cowboys on the Coast Fishing Tournament, Unplugged Cookoff and Vendor Show, 3 Lil’ Wranglers Mutton Bustin’ events and the Raising Champions Livestock Show.


But the fair is the highlight of the year. For Lawson and his team, the task is almost like running a small city.


In addition to coordinating fair events that range from home- canning contests to barrel races, arrangements are made with local law enforcement to provide security and with emergency crews to provide medical assistance if needed.


And, of course, the livestock and rodeo show needs volunteer veterinarians.


Lawson says the fair wouldn’t be possible without volunteers and corporate and individual sponsors.


He admits to getting only three or four hours of sleep as the fair approaches.


After the pandemic years, what could possibly go wrong this year? How about a drought?


Drought conditions earlier this year caused the ground to shift, breaking pipes and causing leaks on the 120-acre fairgrounds.


But that problem pales compared to the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021.


In 2020 - his first year on the job - Lawson was forced to make tough decisions on limiting attendance because of the pandemic.


Having lost several friends to Covid-19, Lawson was well aware of the risks the disease posed.

In trying to decide which events to hold and which events to cancel, Lawson relied on two principles.


First, he wanted to hold as many competitions as possible in events where a title was awarded annually. He didn’t want gaps for the year 2020 in those competitions.


He also wanted to preserve events for kids. “Many kids that year were missing proms and other special events,” he says. “I wanted to keep as many of our youth events as possible.”


But that meant there was no rodeo and no entertainers in 2020.


Attendance records weren’t kept that year, but Lawson says the fair lost about $600,000. In 2021, the fair followed social distancing and other occupancy recommendations and drew 130,000 visitors.


Despite the lost revenue, the association honored its scholarship commitments.


Each year, the association awards $50,000 in scholarships. Scholarship winners have $1,000 sent to their university each semester as long as the students live up to their commitments.


As a disabled person in a wheelchair, I was glad to learn that the fair is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Handicapped parking and accessible restrooms are available, and there are even golf carts if needed.


So, see you there.


(Contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)