Tri-Village News

State fair work always a fun ride

Grandview workers will be inducted into Ohio State Fair Hall of Fame

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RYAN M.L. YOUNG/THISWEEKNEWS
Grandview residents Luis Perez (left) and Jeffrey Dillion pose for a portrait Monday, July 21, at the Ohio State Fairgrounds. Both men have been working at the fair since the mid-1970s and will be inducted this week into the Ohio State Fair Hall of Fame.
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Jeffrey Dillion always knows where he's going to be on his birthday: the Ohio State Fair.

"My birthday is the last week of July, and its always fair time," said Dillion, an Ohio Expo Center and State Fair employee. "So I know I'll be celebrating my birthday at the fair."

Dillion and another Grandview resident and fellow expo center/fair employee, Luis Perez, each will have something to celebrate at this year's event.

The pair are among the 2014 inductees into the Ohio State Fair Hall of Fame. They and four other honorees will be recognized today, July 24, at the 39th annual induction ceremony.

"It's a true honor to be selected for the hall of fame," Dillion said.

"Both Jeff and I started on the bottom rung at the fair," Perez said. "I never would have expected to end up in the hall of fame."

Dillion started working at the fair in 1975 as summer student help just as he was turning 17.

"I had a lot of fun working at the fair. For a 16- or 17-year-old, it was a summer job that couldn't be beat," he said. "It gets in your blood, it really does."

He became a full-time employee in 1977 and now oversees the landscaping and groundskeeping program. He also manages the Celeste Center during the fair and ice maintenance for youth hockey activities at the Ohio Expo Center.

Perez was 19 when he began working as a summer student employee in 1977.

"My older sister had worked her way through college at the fair, and that was what I was doing," he said. "I never expected it to become a lifelong job."

Perez became a full-time employee in 1978 and worked in a variety of positions before being named assistant general manager in 2004. He oversees a number of departments and his duties also include helping to coordinate the fair and other events at the expo center.

"There are a lot of people who have spent about as long as Jeff and I working here," Perez said. "It's a great place to work because the work is always different. It's definitely not your 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday job. Never has been, never will be."

While the fair is the most prominent event each year, the fairgrounds and expo center are busy year-round with activities, Dillion said.

"That's the question I get asked most often: 'What do you guys do when the fair's over?' " he said. "But we're working throughout the year. There are times during the year when it actually gets busier than it is during the fair."

Perez said he enjoys the continuity of working with familiar family-run concessions and game vendors. One vendor's business is now operated by the founder's son and soon will be taken over by his grandson.

Working with the same people each year makes it easier, because "you know everybody. There are no surprises," Perez said.

"It's a hard life for them traveling from place to place," Dillion said. "Not a lot of people want to get involved in the carnival business anymore, so you see a lot of families."

"The carnival business has become a lot more reputable over the years," Perez said. "Everything used to be done on a handshake, but now there are contracts in place. It's more stable."

Both Dillion and Perez said they can't imagine having any other career.

"It's been 39 years for me, so I know it's going to end before too long," Dillion said. "I can't picture not working here. It's probably going to be a big gap to fill."

After 37 years, Perez said he still gets excited anticipating the atmosphere of a crowded fairgrounds full of activity.

"I know (the night before the fair opens) I'll be laying awake at 2 a.m., if I've fallen asleep, wondering, 'What happens if we open the fair and nobody shows up?' " he said. "When the fair's open, this place becomes its own ZIP code, a little city. That's when it's so much fun to work here."

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