09/27/13 — Queen of the show

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Queen of the show

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 27, 2013 1:46 PM

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Queen of The Fair director Gaye Hare shows 2-year-old Cameron Howell pictures in this year's Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair book. Mrs. Hare has been working the event for 25 years.

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Gaye Hare, the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair's Queen of the Fair director for the past 25 years, was, herself, in a pageant while in high school, competing against a half-dozen girls for the title of Miss Patetown in 1961.

There are two things about the county fair that Gaye Lancaster Hare unabashedly loves -- being director of the bottle collection exhibit and director of the Queen of the Fair pageant.

Since she was a little girl growing up on a farm in Pikeville and her daddy loaded the family up in the car to attend the local event, the fair and the pageant have become an annual tradition.

She remembers attending the Queen of the Fair contest, in a small building with a dirt floor "and some seats like you see in the (movie) theater," she said.

"That's where I saw my first pageant and it was in the '50s," she said.

She even entered a pageant herself once. It was the local fire department's event, Miss Patetown.

"I was in high school, about 1961," she said. "I didn't win anything. There were six or eight girls. You can say that started my pageant career."

She's since attended many, among them the Miss North Carolina pageant and traveling to New Jersey for Miss America. But none rival the Queen of the Fair.

"I started going to the (fair) pageants when (daughter) Susan (Herring) was little," she said. "I started working as a volunteer when she was in a stroller. She's 39 now."

Her role as its director, though, came about by accident. It was 1989, she said, and Sonya Strouse was in the role.

"Her mother and I graduated from Charles B. Aycock together, in the first graduating class, 1962," she said. "(Sonya's) co-director did not show up and we were working (at the fair) and she asked me to help her. Literally that night. I was just walking in the entertainment arena and there she was, nobody much to help her."

Mrs. Hare served as co-director for eight years. Then in 1997, she and her daughter took it over.

This year marks her 25th anniversary in the role.

And while some of the fashions and formats may have changed over the years, there are many things that have remained the same.

Like the spiral notebook that contains meticulous notes about each year's event.

"I don't have a computer," Mrs. Hare said. "The fair does the computer work and my daughter does it at home."

And then there is the notorious baby blue suitcase.

"It's probably at least 40 years old," her daughter said with a laugh. "Nobody has luggage like this any more."

"It's her Queen of the Fair suitcase," Jay Sauls, Ms. Strouse's cousin and a local entertainer who now lives in New York City, said. "Nobody touches her Queen of the Fair suitcase. Everything you need is right there. I would kind of rag on her about that.

"It's almost become superstitious."

Sauls said he has known "Miss Gaye" his whole life and has flown in to celebrate her silver anniversary. He and another cousin, Jill Suggs Howell -- who was named Queen of the Fair in 1993 -- have served as emcees and provided entertainment for the last half-dozen years.

"We have all been involved. I think it will be about 17 years that I have worked with them," he said. "It's changed a lot over the years. I remember back in the day when I started helping them, all the girls wore like white shorts and the same top. They would give them a couple colors to choose from."

The contest actually partners the fair up with local schools, Mrs. Hare said. Years ago, every high school was encouraged to send one contestant representative to participate. These days, they're allowed three each and private and home-schooled contestants also participate.

Mrs. Hare works closely with the girls, preparing them for the event.

Over the years, for the most part it has run pretty smoothly.

"One time we had a bad storm," she said, recalling the year Hurricane Floyd blew through and upended the fair festivities. "The queen was the only thing open that night. We walked from wherever to the entertainment arena and some guys laid some plywood for us to walk on."

And then there was the "wardrobe malfunction."

"To my knowledge that I can remember, we have only had a zipper (that broke)," she said. "We had to hold up and Jay had to fill in (on stage) while they could get the girl's dress together."

The trappings may be sparse -- Mrs. Hare and Ms. Herring arrive early to decorate the stage and have the judges' table set up for tonight's event -- but there are many hands who help make it light work, Mrs. Hare said.

"I'm just sitting (backstage) with my book, with my numbers," she said. "I have got all the girls' names and numbers. I just sit back with my book and make sure everybody's coming out on time."

The tradition is now being handed down to the next generation, with 9-year-old granddaughter, Presley Herring, also assisting.

"We have been carrying her (to the event) ever since she was born," Mrs. Hare said. "She has the numbers when the girls draw for contestant numbers, anything we need her to do. She's an assistant before the pageant."

Perfectly content to stay out of the limelight, the director is credited with creating an encouraging family atmosphere for the contestants, many of whom are entering a pageant for the first time.

"That's what Miss Gaye is so good about -- that they'll have a positive experience," Sauls said. "She's like the matriarch of the Queen of the Fair. She's like everybody's second mom. Her role is much more important than she probably realizes."

Mrs. Hare modestly shrugs off the accolades, which have also included recognition by the fair itself. In 2011, she was presented with the service award from the Wayne County Livestock Association.

"She's never wanted to be in the spotlight," Mrs. Howell said. "Whenever we have called her up on the stage, she would stand back there at her little table and just shake her head.

"In 20 years, she has not changed. She remains just as humble."

At 69, Mrs. Hare said she never imagined she would be celebrating 25 years in the role.

"It just kept happening and I have enjoyed it so much and like I said, the support of the community and the parents has made it for me a very positive experience. And of course the fair staff, they back us up so good," she said. "I'm always excited. I'm excited to see it every year. Although I see every practice, the actual pageant is entirely different. I just love it. You can just call me a happy pageant person."