FLEMINGTON, NJ - Roger Everitt, who was responsible more than any other person for the creation and growth of the Hunterdon County 4-H and Agriculture Fair, died Friday, March 31 after being in declining health for several months. He was 86.
“I had the privilege to work with him from the beginning of the fair,” said Bob Hoffman of Tewksbury, its vice president from the start. “If I had to sum it up I would call him ‘Mr. Fair,’ he said of Everitt, who was the leader of a group of farmers and 4-H alumni who came together in 1999 in hopes of starting a fair. That was shortly after the officers of the privately owned Flemington Fair decided to stop holding their fair.
When that happened, Everitt and several other members of the Hunterdon County Board of Agriculture formed a committee to continue the local exhibition of 4-H and agricultural displays. It chose Everitt president, a position he was elected to annually and held until his death.
The new Hunterdon group held its first fairs on the Flemington Fairgrounds while a new location was being sought. Playing key roles with Everitt early on were George Conard and Ken Totten. They approached the county Board of Chosen Freeholders and got their financial support.
Some of the first meetings of the new fair group were held around the kitchen table at Everitt’s home near Ringoes. He had been a director of Flemington Fair and was full of ideas about how to create and improve the new fair. For instance, he suggested asking community groups to organize and oversee parking at the fair. That led to having area volunteer fire companies each taking a full day operating the parking fields, in exchange for a hefty donation.
The Hunterdon County 4-H & Agricultural Fair organization is comprised of farmers, 4-H leaders/alumni and local residents. It’s a true non-profit, with the only employees a few part-timers who help out with grounds and building maintenance, garbage collection and so forth.
Everitt “was a true Norman Rockwell in the making,” remarked Dan Torrone of Clinton, a former 4-H’er who has helped out with the fair almost from the start. “He was a slice of old Hunterdon County, irreplaceable,” said Torrone, a fair director who heads up its Main Stage entertainment features.
He recalled Everitt as “a wonderful friend, a tireless worker, and a larger-than-life personality.”
Everitt was a leader starting as a youth, serving as president of the Mount Airy Dairy 4-H Club, which his children and grandchildren joined decades later. He was also a charter member of the rescue squad and chief of the fire company in Ringoes; president of the local cemetery association and involved in several other groups. He knew that a diverse group of people with various talents and backgrounds were necessary to create a successful fair and worked to recruit volunteers, particularly among the younger generations who will be running the fair in the future.
Although the fair itself is a monument to Everitt and his organizational skills, the fair directors plan to create a permanent memorial of some sort so people will always know of his vision.
Everitt was for many years a partner of neighboring farmer Dave Bond in D & R Equipment, a used farm machinery sales and service business, and it seemed he knew just about every farmer in the region, not just locally.
Terry Wright of Raritan Township, a fair director and its corporate secretary, rode with Everitt to various fair association meetings. “Whether out past Allentown in Pennsylvania or well into South Jersey, Roger would always be pointing out ‘I once delivered a tractor to the guy down that road’ or ‘the fellow living around the bend there came into our place looking for a corn planter.”
Everitt had many suggestions right from the start about creating a fair. Who could handle security? Where to get eggs for the incubator? Arranging for a Christmas tree display. How the corporation could be set up? Who to see about a bank loan? Where to rent a sled for the tractor pull contest? Holding a garden tractor pull and a possibly an antique tractor display?
Wright, himself a former 4-H member in Somerset County, was persuaded to join the fair board by Jay Langley, who was once editor at the Hunterdon County Democrat, where both worked for many years. Everitt later explained that he invited Langley to help out because somebody had told him to have a successful community project, “get a newspaper person involved” to guarantee good publicity.
For its first four years, the fair was held at Flemington Fairgrounds, while the search was underway for a new location. This eventually resulted in the Hunterdon Freeholders purchasing the former Ringoes Drive-In movie theater location to become South County Park, with the fair its main use, starting in 2004. The fair association borrowed money to construct the first five buildings - later adding two - and install a flexible, outdoor power grid to provide electricity for the many vendors and exhibitors who are a part of the fair.
Hoffman, the vice president, remembers “the night Roger came to the Hunterdon County Board of Agriculture meeting with the idea of continuing the fair. I was appointed to head the committee to look to see if it was feasible. Luckily there was lots of support. After many meetings and lots of miles traveled and paths taken, the fair as we know it today continued. “Roger really cared about the 4-H members and the importance of them having a place to exhibit their projects. It did not matter what the project was; they all needed a place to show it off. He knew who to talk to and where to get help to make his vision succeed for the entire community.”
Wright recalled how Everitt really wanted people to enjoy the fair. Early on at Ringoes, there was no ATM on site and people who came to the fair without spending money were out of luck. One day a woman came up to the fair office tent and asked about getting some cash. As Wright suggested she try a store or bank in town, Everitt came up, heard the conversation and joined in. “Where about do you live?” he asked the woman.
When she replied up near Little York, he remarked that he had a daughter living there. Then he offered to cash her check and reached for his wallet.
“In commenting that his daughter lived near the woman, I think he was really telling her ‘if the check bounces, I’ll find you!’ Wright said. “He wanted the woman and her family to have a great time at the fair, but he was a businessman and wasn’t going to be taken advantage of, either.”
Even though declining health in recent months kept Everitt away from fair director meetings, he was keenly interested in what was going on, seeking reports after each. Just a few weeks ago, despite intense pain, he was driven to the fairgrounds because he wanted to point out where new power and water lines should be installed.
His funeral procession is to take a loop through the fairgrounds. The family asked that any memorial contributions be made to the fair and mailed to it at P.O. Box 2900, Flemington 08822.
Funeral services will be held Saturday, April 8, at 11 a.m. in United First Presbyterian Church of Amwell at Larison's Corner, 1000 Old York Road, Ringoes. Interment will be in Union Cemetery, Ringoes. Calling hours will be Friday, April 7, 5-9 p.m. at Holcombe-Fisher Funeral Home, 147 Main Street, Flemington.