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Around The Grange
No. Stonington Fair: A Family Tradition

By Julianne Hanckel, New London Day (7/15/10)

  AUGUST 3, 2010 --

Before Billy Gilman sang the national anthem to mark the opening of the 46th Annual Agricultural Fair, Peggy Sue Long and her sister Jody Whipple were in tears.

July 8 marked a bittersweet moment for the pair as it was the first year they were not joined by their mother during the opening ceremony.

Their mother, Shirley Collins, one of the founders of the North Stonington fair and longtime member of the Board of Directors, died last October. Their father and fair founder Ralph "Bub" Collins died 19 years ago but was heavily involved in fair operations.

"I know I'm carrying on my parents' passion. My parents were advocates for fairs all over New England," Long said. "It will take two of us to fill my mom's shoes this year. It doesn't seem possible that she isn't going to be there."

It was truly a husband and wife affair.

Ralph called the tractor pulls and the horse shows while Shirley ran the shows, was in charge of booking the entertainment and ordering the trophies, ribbons, and plaques for the awards. After the death of her husband, Shirley took over his role and became the voice of the pulling contests at fairs throughout New England.

It is now up to Long, Whipple, and the rest of their family to continue the Collins legacy.

"We were a committee," Long said. "It's been very strange the past few months not talking to her about things that need to be done and the things that have already been done."

It was Shirley Collins and Long who were the first to pay Gilman for a show when he was 9 years old. He said he sang the national anthem in honor of Collins.

"They have followed my career, and country music is about community," Gilman said. "Last year's benefit at Mohegan Sun was the last event Shirley was able to get to, so I wanted to do this for her."

After the opening ceremony, a large group of fair revelers dispersed to enjoy the games, rides, and perhaps to indulge in some of the famous fair foods that had been tempting their nostrils.

Andrea Sadowski of Just Like Grandma's Bakery held a tray of heavenly looking desserts. All handmade with the freshest ingredients, the Oreo mousse, seven layer bars, and fudge caught the attention of passersby, but what the people really come to her booth for is the whoopee pies the size of a dinner plate and her famous apple crisp.

"The whoopee pie tastes just like a Devil Dog, and you can't get much better than that," Sadowski said.

Nearby, Michael Caster was on the Euro Bungy, his favorite ride at the fair. Attached to a harness, the 6-year-old jumped and somersaulted through the air while his father, Erik, yelled out words of encouragement.

"That was a 10, give me another one!"

"My favorite part was flipping and somersaulting through the air," Michael Caster said. "It wasn't scary because I was brave."



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