Mark and Patty Cotter of Haslett, Mich., a suburb of Lansing, have attended the Great Darke County Fair again this week to clean it up as they have since 2004.
Mark has attended the fair for 60 years as his family lived in neighboring Randolph County. They even shopped in Greenville at Ed Cornell’s and Fourman’s menswear stores to buy Mark’s clothes for school.
Because of his love for the area and remembering the good times he had at the fair, he wanted to give back to this area. Thus, he and his wife have been coming to fair week to pick up trash on the grounds.
“We put on black gloves and put trash we find in black plastic bags, starting at the gazebo each day,” he said.
He said they were walking on the grounds in 2004 when a golf cart drove near them and Velma Campbell, then president of the fair board, got off and asked them, “Who are you and why are you picking up trash?”
He explained to her about him wanting to give back.
“That started a great relationship with Velma and other board members as time went on,” Mark said.
Yes, this is their 17th year of voluntarily picking up trash at the fair.
Patty usually gets started cleaning the grounds at 7:30 a.m. and he a little later. In addition to picking up trash, he uses a leaf blower to clean the ramp at the Coliseum.
Their cleanup time takes a couple of hours, he said. They clean at the six gates, the gazebo, the Veterans Building and horseshoe pits.
In their cleaning, they have found such objects as dirty diapers in parking lots 5 and 6 and are finding that shredded Styrofoam cups difficult to pick up even though it’s infrequent.
He was surprised to find four pacifiers and she has found a pair of men’s underwear. The money they find (usually $30 or $40 during fair week) they donate to the Cancer Association of Darke County. They present that money at the ring toss event the last Saturday of the fair.
They indicated they have never found any drug-related items but have found beer cans and beer bottles, which they throw in the trash whereas at home they recycle.
Over the years, the Cotters have found the fairgrounds to be cleaner.
“It looks like there’s less dirt as far as the trash goes,” he said.
Both of them agree that the fair board is good to work for.
“We also do other things for them,” Mark said. “We are ticket-takers for concerts and we have done various tasks for the board for many years. There are usually long lines also for tractor pulls and demolition derby and we’re out front managing those lines. Patty is pushing them through. The ticket-sellers inside are happier.”
He said they even inform fair-goers in line if the event has sold out.
“The people, in general, are nice about it,” according to him. “We’re very courteous in giving them information they need.”
As noted before, this is volunteer work for them; however, there are perks (for example, getting to see the concerts and other events they’re helping out with).
Mark also goes with the Darke County Fair’s soundman Gregory Peck, to work three other fairs.
Patty worked for the State of Michigan in the department of the treasury for 35 years before retiring, and he was in the insurance business for 32 years before retiring, having been its director of corporate communications the last 20 of those years.
The Cotters met in 1993 when they were in their 40s at a singles meeting for Catholic Singles in September 1990.
“She is a city girl who really embraced agriculture,” Mark said of Patty.